It’s not exactly a secret that America’s heroin epidemic has spiraled out of control in recent years.

According to one 2015 study, there are almost 1 million Americans abusing heroin on an annual basis. The problem has gotten to be so bad that some states like Pennsylvania and Florida have declared a state of emergency over it.


What Is Heroin?

This drug exists in several different forms. Most commonly, heroin comes in the form of either a white or brown powder. But in some instances, heroin will also take the form of a black substance that’s very sticky. This form of heroin is commonly called black tar heroin.


Heroin is an opioid drug that is manufactured from morphine. The morphine that is used to make heroin originates from poppy plants that are most often found in places like Mexico, Colombia, and different parts of Asia.

How Is It Taken?

There are a few ways in which heroin users will use the drug. People can inject heroin, snort it, sniff it, and smoke it. There are also people who choose to mix heroin together with crack cocaine before injecting or snorting it as part of a dangerous practice that is called speedballing.

Who Takes It?

One of the reasons why heroin has turned into such a big issue in America is because it’s abused by those of almost all ages at a high rate. But the increase in heroin use in the U.S. as a whole appears to be closely tied to the increase in heroin use in those who fall between the ages of 18 and 25.

This helps explains why the number of people trying heroin for the very first time spiked from 90,000 people in 2007 to 170,000 people in 2016.

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A Brief History of Heroin

Despite the recent surge of heroin users, heroin is not a particularly new drug. It was first synthesized from morphine way back in the 1870s and was sold commercially in the late 1890s by the Bayer Pharmaceutical Company. It was, at one time, thought to be a worthy replacement to the highly-addictive morphine.

However, heroin was eventually outlawed in the U.S. and many other parts of the world after it was found to be every bit as addictive and dangerous as morphine.

Consequences of Heroin Use

Heroin has become one of the most abused drugs in the U.S. and on the planet as a whole because of the effects that it has on both the mind and the body. The so-called “heroin high” is unlike almost any other high associated with using drugs.

Effects on the Mind and Body

Heroin can cause a variety of effects for those who choose to use it. A few of those effects are listed below:

  • Binds to the opioid receptors located in a person’s brains within just a few seconds and produces an almost instant feeling of euphoria due to a sudden increase in dopamine levels
  • Knocks out unpleasant feelings of depression and anxiety and makes a person feel happier than they would feel otherwise with their life
  • Creates feelings of warmth and even safety and makes those who might be in a dangerous situation feel secure in their surroundings
  • Eliminates any physical pain that a person might be feeling in the various parts of their body
  • Slows down a person’s heart rate and breathing and brings down their blood pressure

A “heroin high” will usually take hold of a person and impact their mind and body very quickly. But it also doesn’t take long to wear off. More often than not, the high produced by using heroin will only last for a few minutes before a person begins to come down from it.

From there, there are many short- and long-term health effects associated with heroin use. They range from relatively minor inconveniences to extremely serious health complications.

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Short-Term Health Effects

When a person first uses heroin, they usually won’t feel anything other than the euphoria that comes along with it. But shortly after that, there are short-term health effects that will start to set in. They include:

  • Dry mouth
  • A heavy feeling that takes over both the arms and the legs
  • Warm flushing of a person’s skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • An inability to think clearly
  • Moderate to severe itching

Some of these short-term health effects will disappear once the heroin makes its way out of a person’s system. But some of them will linger and, in some cases, even get worse once the heroin is gone.

Long-Term Health Effects

In addition to short-term health effects, a person can also face many long-term health effects when using heroin regularly. They include:

  • Insomnia
  • An infection in the lining of the heart
  • Swollen pus-filled tissues called abscesses in different areas of the body
  • Constipation
  • Severe stomach cramping
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Lung diseases
  • Depression

Many heroin users also share needles to inject heroin. By doing this, they increase the chances of contracting serious diseases like hepatitis and HIV.

Additionally, those who use heroin can overdose on the drug and die if they take too much of it at once. There were more than 70,000 people who overdosed on heroin and other illicit drugs in 2017 alone.

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Using Heroin With Other Drugs

Studies have shown that the majority of the people who use heroin use at least one other drug, too.

Which Drugs Are Commonly Used With Heroin?

As previously mentioned, there are some heroin users who will mix the drug with cocaine to create a concoction called “speedball.” There are also heroin users who drink alcohol while under the influence of heroin.

Some heroin users will even mix the drug with benzodiazepines, including drugs like Valium, Xanax, and more. This is especially dangerous because both heroin and benzodiazepines can slow down your breathing dramatically and put your body at risk. The combination of the two can also stop naloxone, a drug that’s used to reverse an overdose, from doing its job.

Treating Heroin Addiction

If you or someone you know struggle with heroin addiction, you can get the help you need to kick your habit. It’ll help you avoid the short-term and long-term health effects associated with it and allow you to live a happier, healthier life.

Get started by taking a look at what kind of detox programs and treatment options your insurance company might cover.

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