Last Updated on January 27, 2016 by Morris Green
According to a story published by Medical News Today in early 2015, heroin deaths in the United States “quadrupled from 2000 [to] 2013.” In 2013, a staggering 43,982 deaths across the U.S. were attributed to drug poisoning. All of them had a single iccilict and illegal drug in common: heroin.
Heroin is an opioid painkiller. What many people do not realize is that is it often prescribed as an analgesic, antidiarrheal, and cough suppressant. It’s most dangerous form is as an illegal recreational drug where users experience its euphoric effects for pleasure.
The History of Heroin
According to Wikipedia, heroin was first synthesized in 1874 by English chemist and physics researcher C.R. Alder Wright. Wright combined two acetyl groups to the molecule morphine to create what is today known as heroin.
The drug is intravenously injected. It is also made in a matte-white powder or freebase form that is smoked. It is two to four times stronger than morphine and its onset is faster.
Heroin is a tightly controlled substance. It is illegal to manufacture, possess, or deal the drug without a government approved and regulated license. The drug has been mass-produced outside of the United States in Afghanistan and Mexico.
In 2004, approximately 84% of the world’s raw opium supply was produced in Afghanistan. From 2007 to 2011, the production rate of heroin rose six fold in Mexico, making the country the second largest opium producer in the world.
Heroin’s Legal Status
Heroin isn’t illegal in just the United States. Asia, Europe, Australia, and North America have all taken action to limit and control this highly dangerous and addictive drug.
- Asia: Hong Kong regulates heroin under Schedule 1 of Hong Kong’s Chapter 134 Dangerous Drugs Ordinance. It is only legal as a prescription. Anyone caught supplying it without a valid prescription faces a fine of up to $10,000. Those caught trafficking or manufacturing heroin face a $50,000 fine and life imprisonment. Possession without a Department of Health issued license is illegal and will result in a $10,000 fine plus a seven-year imprisonment.
- Europe: The Netherlands categorize heroin as a List 1 drug of the Opium Law. While available under tight regulation as a prescription for long-term addicts whose methadone maintenance treatment has failed, it is not allowed for use as a severe pain treatment.The UK allows heroin availability by prescription, but it is a restricted Class A drug and otherwise illegal.
- Australia: Heroin is categorized as a schedule 9 prohibited substance under Australia’s Poisons Standard. It is only legal by prescription when medically sound or for scientific purposes. Any other use is considered abuse and deemed illegal.
- North America: Canada lists heroin has a controlled substance under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA). Any non-medical or non-prescription use is considered an offense and punishable by up to seven years of imprisonment.The United States classifies heroin as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. It is illegal to possess without a DEA license, and possession of more than 100 grams is punishable with a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years.
Why Heroin Is Dangerous
Heroin is an opioid, which means by construction it is designed to cause long-term complications like dependence and addiction. It is created from a chemical process, which means no two batches of heroin are ever exactly the same.
You might compare cooking heroin to food preparation. If food is prepared incorrectly or in an unhealthy environment poisoning results. In much the same way, if heroin is incorrectly prepared or cooked, the resulting batch can be a deadly poison to the user.
The average purity of street heroin within the United States ranges from 30 to 50 percent. Heroin seized at the border or traced to sources outside of the U.S. has had purity levels of 40 to 60 percent. This large variation makes the drug highly dangerous and it is attributed to deadly overdoses.
When obtaining heroin, you don’t know where the dealer acquired it. The drug they sell, trade, or give could be tainted. It could be laced with another drug or chemical that you don’t know about. It could be stronger than anticipated because of a high purity level and even a small dose could kill. Unless this drug comes from a controlled source (i.e. a medical source), it could very easily cause an overdose and death.
The Effects of Heroin on the Body
How does heroin affect the body? It has short and long-term effects.
In the short-term, heroin abusers experience “clouded mental functioning.” They can suffer from uncontrollable nausea and vomiting. Their alertness to pain becomes repressed. Heart functions decrease when the drug hits their system and breathing is often severely decelerated, which is sometimes the cause of death.
In the long-term, heroin abuses often suffer from scarred and collapsed veins. The constant use of needles for injection leads to bacterial infections of the blood vessels, heart valves, and other soft tissue. Users are at a greater risk of AIDS, hepatitis, blood-borne, and incurable viral diseases. Disease of the kidneys and liver develops. Lung complications from smoking or inhaling heroin occur.
The Increase of Heroin Related Deaths
According to Medical News Today, increases in heroin related deaths are being seen in all regions of the U.S. However, the largest increase has been pinpointed in the Northeast and West regions where death rates rose to nearly 11 times their recorded number in 2000.
Now more than ever it is critical to know the facts about heroin and our youth. The most powerful weapons we have in our arsenal are recognition and education. Know the signs of drug addiction. Watch for and recognize them.
Start a conversation with the young people in your life about drugs today. Listen to their opinions and resist the urge to judge any firsthand experience they may share.
Our youth are being exposed to illicit drugs like heroin, often without our knowledge. Give them a safe environment to discuss this topic and you will be opening one of the most influential dialogues possible.
The first step in education is starting the conversation. Have you?