Heroin: Prescription Pain Killer’s Evil Twin
Similarities between Heroin and Prescription Painkillers
Heroin and prescription painkillers come from the same family of drugs. They are all part of the opioid family, which means they are derived from the poppy plant. Opioids, including heroin, all share several characteristics and in general have the same type of effect on the human body. These drugs bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, blocking the feeling of pain. They give the user a feeling of euphoria and help calm anxiety, and they also slow other actions in the body, including digestion and respiration. Finally, both heroin and prescription painkillers are very addicting, both physically and psychologically. Users begin to crave the feeling of euphoria the medications/drugs provide, sometimes so strongly they will give up other things in life to get more.
Heroin is More Addicting and More Potent
While these substances are very similar, there are also differences. Heroin is generally more addicting. Patients who take prescription painkillers as prescribed generally don’t fall into addiction (though they can develop dependence), but sometimes after using heroin just once, a person can be hooked. It is estimated that 23% of individuals who use heroin develop opioid addiction (American Society of Addiction Medicine). Heroin is also more potent than most prescription painkillers, making it even more dangerous to experiment with.
The biggest difference between the two substances, however, is that prescription opiates are regulated, dispensed under the care of a physician, and provide necessary, honest relief to millions who use them as directed. Heroin, on the other hand, is a street drug, sold by drug dealers for drug addicts. All heroin is manufactured and sold on the black market, meaning we never truly know what is in it.
Today’s Heroin User
Heroin use has become a scary trend in recent years. Even though this drug has been around for decades, it has been relatively quiet for some time, but now since the late 90s has emerged, stronger and deadlier than ever. Part of the reason heroin is so deadly now is that the profile of the heroin addict has changed. 40 years ago, heroin users were stereotypical druggies – young adults, living on the streets of a big city, sleeping in alleys, constantly high. Today, heroin users look much different. A growing number of heroin addicts are from middle-class homes, people living in the suburbs. Many are teens, but they can also be housewives, executives, and businessmen and women. This change in demographics is because of heroin’s close connection to prescription opiates. Many people today are prescribed opiate painkillers after an accident, injury, or illness. Some patients abuse their prescriptions, taking more pills than prescribed or more often than directed, and they become addicted. As their addiction grows, these individuals often turn to heroin, because of the similarity between the substances. And so, we have seen a sudden spike in once successful, responsible members of society turning up with heroin addiction.
Heroin is Dangerous and Deadly
Prescription painkillers are powerful and they can lead to overdose and death if abused, but in general, heroin is a more powerful, deadlier, and also surprisingly, cheaper drug. Those who are addicted to prescription opiates might go looking for heroin because it provides a better high, and in many cases, it is less expensive and easier to get. It doesn’t take long for the person to become completely controlled by heroin, and every time they use, they put themselves in grave danger.
Heroin is not a regulated substance, which makes it even more dangerous. Drug dealers, looking to increase their profit, will cut their supply of heroin with other substances, including starch, chalk, and talcum powder. These and other harmful substances are entering the addict’s body every time they use. Heroin users have a high rate of overdose because it is so dangerous and impossible to determine the composition and strength of each batch. Statistics show that there were 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015 (ASAM), and that fatal overdoses involving heroin skyrocketed from 8% in 2010 to 25% in 2015 — essentially tripling (Centers for Disease Control).
With the advancement of medicine, an antidote to heroin overdose has been developed. Called naloxone, this opioid antagonist reverses and blocks the effects of heroin and opiates. First responders and hospitals now carry a form of naloxone, called Narcan, with them in order to treat and reverse heroin overdoses. However, Narcan must be administered within a certain window of time, and many people unfortunately fatally overdose without anyone around to help.
Types of Detox
When a person wants to get clean from their heroin addiction, the first step to recovery is detox. Withdrawing from heroin is much the same as withdrawing from prescription painkillers, and the user might feel like they have the flu: body aches, diarrhea, nausea, and lethargy. While not really dangerous, it is easy for the user to become discouraged and give up if they don’t have the encouragement and support of people around them. For that reason, and also because it is easy for a person with bad withdrawal symptoms to become dehydrated or experience other complications, detoxing in a professional facility is always recommended. There are a few different types of detox, and the decision to choose one type over another has to do with the individual, their history of addiction, general health, and motivation.
The highest level of supervision is called medical detox, and this is when the individual withdraws in a hospital or hospital-like setting, surrounded by a team of doctors and nurses. These patients are kept comfortable with medications that relieve anxiety, nausea, and pain. Fluids and other supportive care are often provided in medical detox, and if anything goes wrong, the person is right there with medical professionals at hand.
A step down from medical detox is supervised detox, in which the person goes through withdrawal in a treatment facility. They will still have professional staff there to monitor them and help keep them comfortable. Medications are at hand and will be used if the person needs them. Most importantly, the treatment team is there to help encourage and motivate the person as they begin the first difficult step toward sobriety.
Home detox is an unsupervised detox, and as was stated before, this method is not recommended because there is always the risk of complications when withdrawing from any substance.
Christian Heroin Treatment
Anyone looking to achieve sobriety after heroin addiction has a long road ahead of them, and treatment, counseling, and psychotherapy must be part of the recovery process. A Christian rehab program that incorporates proven therapy techniques along with proclaiming forgiveness and peace with God is the best way to overcome this type of addiction. Someone who has struggled with heroin addiction will feel embarrassment and shame over their past and the mistakes they’ve made.
There is Hope
But there is hope, and there is full and free forgiveness. Christian rehab reminds the addict of God’s love for them and His ability to forget the past. God is the true Healer, and through Bible study, prayer, and time with other Christians, the recovering heroin addict can learn to let go of their past and face a brighter future.