Two years ago, right around this time of year, I did several articles on the heroin epidemic in our area. While the problem may seem to be quieter, trust me, it is no less prevalent. A recent traffic stop netted 650 bags of heroin, but more than that? A young man lost his life way too soon.
With that in mind I thought we could all use a reminder of the signs and symptoms of heroin abuse. I have said before, and I will say again, if publishing this information helps one person help one other person then it is well worth it.
What is heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from the opium poppy. It is a “downer” or depressant that affects the brain’s pleasure systems and interferes with the brain’s ability to perceive pain.
Short-term effects include a surge of pleasurable sensation or ‘rush’, dry mouth, a heavy feeling in the extremities, suppression of pain, depressed respiration and may be accompanied by nausea and itching. After the initial rush, users will be lethargic for a few hours, mental function is clouded, the heartbeat – as well as breathing slow – which can be life threatening.
Long-term use can lead to liver and kidney disease, arthritis, infection in the lining and valves of the heart, collapsed veins, and infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B and C stemming from needle sharing.
What does heroin look like?
Heroin is a light powder with an off-white or brownish tint.
How is heroin used?
It can be snorted, but more often than not it is injected. The powder is placed on a spoon with a drop of water, it is then heated until the heroin liquefies, and the liquid is then pulled into a syringe and injected.
What are signs of heroin abuse?
According to Assistant Chief of Police, Tim Miller, the signs of heroin abuse can be difficult to spot, but here are a few things to keep an eye out for:
Newly developed lethargy - heroin users are often prone to nodding off at inappropriate times.
Keep an eye out for small black rubber bands; these are used to keep bundles of heroin together.
Also, needle caps. An addict may remember to get rid of a needle, but may miss the cap. Speaking of needles - ‘track marks’ are now a somewhat antiquated notion. Needles today are very small and fine, and with the exception of very heavy users, are often not visible on users.
Take notice of missing cash or jewelry. Many addicts take to theft to support their habit.
The biggest thing you can do is trust your intuition. If something feels off it probably is. If you are seeing behavior out of the norm, say something. If you suspect a loved one is using heroin, don’t wait to intervene. Miller said, “Get involved. Don’t hesitate. Seconds count.” In order to hook people more quickly, drug cartels are peddling heroin that is getting more and more pure every day. So the amount of heroin an addict used today can literally kill them tomorrow. Interceding as soon as possible may mean the difference between life and death.
Talking to children early and often seems to be at the root of preventing heroin addiction. County Coroner Charles Kiessling said, “Obviously the number of prescription medication and illicit drug deaths is continuing to increase in Lycoming County. According to the 2011 PA Youth Survey children as young as the 6th grade have admitted to using prescription medications that were not prescribed for them or using illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine or other substances. Parents and grandparents need to be sure to keep prescriptions secured and out of the hands of children. Tragically the misuse of prescription drugs can lead to long-term addiction to other prescription medications and/or illicit drugs. Frequently the end result is with the addicted individual being arrested or dead! If they are fortunate enough to be arrested and forced into a drug rehabilitation program through sentencing, they may be able to break this addiction. In more than 35 years of working in Emergency Services and the Coroner’s Office I have seen firsthand the tragic results of drug and alcohol abuse. We do not have reset buttons on our lives. Children need to understand this before they decide to abuse prescription medications and illicit drugs.”
If you or someone you know has a problem with heroin, I beg you to seek help as soon as possible. There are many local facilities that can help you, or help you help someone you love.