Heroin Facts

  • Sharing of injection equipment or fluids can lead to some of the most severe consequences of heroin abuse - infections with hepatitis B and C, HIV, and a host of other blood-borne viruses, which drug abusers can then pass on to their sexual partners and children.
  • Over 80% of heroin users inject with a partner, yet 80% of overdose victims found by paramedics are found alone.
  • Typically, a heroin abuser may inject up to four times a day.
  • Recent studies suggest a shift from injecting to snorting or smoking heroin because of increased purity and the misconception that these forms of use will not lead to addiction.

Heroin Addiction & Drug Rehabilitation

Heroin addiction drug rehab is delivered in many different settings, using a variety of approaches. Heroin addiction is a complex problem that can involve virtually every aspect of an individual's functioning in the family, at work, and in the community. Because of addiction's complexity and pervasive consequences, rehab must involve many components. Some of those components focus directly on the individual's drug use. Other components focus on restoring the addicted individual to a productive member in family and society.

Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive drug. It is both the most abused and the most rapid acting of the opiates. According to the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, which may actually underestimate illicit opiate (heroin) use, an estimated 2.4 million people had used heroin at some time in their lives. Nearly 130,000 of those who reported using heroin also reported using it within the month preceding the survey. The survey report estimates that there were 81,000 new heroin users in 1997. A large proportion of these new users were smoking, snorting, or sniffing heroin. Most (87 percent) of them were under the age of 26. In 1992, only 61 percent were younger than 26.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) collects data on drug-related hospital emergency department (ED) episodes from 21 metropolitan areas. A study put out by them in 1998 estimates that 14 percent of all illicit substance-related ED episodes involved heroin. Even more alarming is the fact that between 1991 and 1996, heroin-related ED episodes more than doubled from 35,898 to 73,846. Among youths aged 12 to 17, heroin-related episodes nearly quadrupled.

The Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) provides information about the nature and patterns of drug use in 21 cities. Its December 1999 publication stated that heroin was mentioned most often as the primary substance of abuse in drug addiction rehab admissions in Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, Newark, New York, and San Francisco.

There are many medical consequences of chronic heroin addiction. Some of these consequences include: scarred and/or collapsed veins, bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves, abscesses (boils) and other soft-tissue infections, and liver or kidney disease. Another result of heroin addiction is lung complications. This includes various types of pneumonia and tuberculosis which may result from the poor health condition of the individual as well as from heroin's depressing effects on respiration. Many of the additives in street heroin include substances that do not readily dissolve. These additives can clog in the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in vital organs. Immune reactions to these or other contaminants can cause arthritis or other rheumatologic problems.

Of course, the sharing of injection equipment or fluids can lead to some of the most severe consequences of heroin abuse-infections with hepatitis B and C, HIV, and a host of other blood-borne viruses. Heroin abusers can then pass these diseases onto their sexual partners and children.

There are a variety of effective heroin addiction drug rehab facilities available for heroin addiction. Rehab tends to be more effective when heroin addiction is identified early. The treatments that follow vary depending on the individual. Methadone, a synthetic opiate that blocks the effects of heroin and eliminates withdrawal symptoms, is one current method of heroin rehab. Other pharmaceutical approaches include LAAM (levo-alpha-acetyl-methadol) and buprenorphine. Many behavioral therapies also are utilized in different rehab situations for treating heroin addiction.

Because heroin abuse and addiction are major public health problems, a large portion of drug rehab is funded by local, state, and federal governments. Private and employer-subsidized health plans may also provide coverage for rehab of drug addiction and its medical consequences.

Heroin addiction is treated in specialized rehab facilities and clinics. These facilities are staffed with a variety of providers, including certified drug addiction counselors, physicians, psychologists, nurses, and social workers. Rehab is delivered in outpatient, inpatient, and residential settings. Specific treatment approaches are often associated with a particular rehab setting. However, a variety of therapeutic interventions or services can be included in any given setting.

Those needing to attend drug addiction rehab must keep in mind that medical detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and does little to change long-term drug use by itself. Medical detoxification safely manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal associated to stopping drug use. While detoxification alone is rarely sufficient to help addicts achieve long-term abstinence, for some individuals it is a strong precursor to effective heroin addiction drug rehab.

Heroin addiction drug rehab does not need to be voluntary in order to be effective. Strong motivation can facilitate the treatment process. Sanctions or enticements in the family, employment setting, or criminal justice system can significantly increase both treatment entry and retention rates. It also helps with the success of heroin addiction drug rehab interventions.

Lastly, remaining in heroin addiction drug rehab for an adequate period of time is critical for treatment effectiveness. The appropriate duration for an individual depends on his or her problems and needs. Research indicates that for most individuals, the threshold of significant improvement is reached at about 3 months in treatment. After this threshold is reached, additional treatment can produce further progress toward recovery. Because people often leave heroin addiction drug rehab prematurely, programs should include strategies to engage and keep patients in treatment.

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