heroin addiction

Getting Help

Heroin addiction must be treated like the disease it is. The Harmony Group of treatment centres has been helping people overcome heroin addiction for over 7 years. Providing a specialised combination of medical treatment and behavioural therapy has seen a high success rate of recovery for heroin abusers. If you or a loved one needs help, contact us today! 0861 Harmony

Information about Heroin Addiction

Heroin is used as both a pain-killer and a recreational drug and has an extremely high potential for abuse. Frequent and regular administration is associated with tolerance, moderate physical dependence, and severe psychological dependence which often develop into addiction.

Historically, in South Africa, heroin users tended to be white but this is changing rapidly. Heroin is now marketed specifically in townships, making it more accessible to African users. Prices have also come down and it is far more affordable to lower income groups.

Recreational Use
Heroin is used as a recreational drug for the profound relaxation and intense euphoria it produces, although the latter effect diminishes with increased tolerance. Its popularity with recreational drug users, compared to morphine, stems from its perceived different effects. In particular, users report an intense “rush” that occurs while heroin is being metabolised in the brain. One of the most common methods of illicit heroin use is via intravenous injection (“shooting up”). Heroin base, when prepared for injection will only dissolve in water when mixed with an acid (most commonly citric acid powder or lemon juice) and heated. Users tend to initially inject in the easily accessible veins in the arm, but as these veins collapse over time through damage caused by the acid, the user will often resort to injecting in other veins.

Other ways of taking heroin include snorting and smoking by inhaling its vapors when heated, either with tobacco in a rolled cigarette or by heating the drug on aluminium foil beneath. When heated, the heroin powder changes to a thick liquid, similar in consistency to molten wax, and it will run across the foil giving off smoke which the user inhales through a tube, usually also made from foil so that any heroin that collects on the inside of the tube can be smoked afterward.

Identifying Suspected Heroin Use
How do you know if someone has a problem? Look out for the following suspicious signs/objects:

  • Bent and blackened teaspoons
  • Blackened tinfoil
  • Matchbox covers
  • Hypodermic syringes and needles
  • Lemons or packets of citric acid
  • Needle marks
  • Unidentified tablets, capsules or syrups
  • Tourniquets.

Large doses of heroin can cause fatal respiratory depression, and the drug has been used for suicide or as a murder weapon. Because significant tolerance to respiratory depression develops quickly with continued use and is lost just as quickly during withdrawal, it is often difficult to determine whether a heroin death was an accident, suicide or murder.

Famous Heroin Users
Well known examples of heroin users include Sid Vicious, Janis Joplin, Tim Buckley, Layne Staley, Bradley Nowell, Ted Binion, and River Phoenix, all of whom died of overdoses.

River Phoenix
Owned the Viper Room nightclub with Johnny Depp. Died of an overdose after taking a speedball (heroin and cocaine mix).

William Burroughs
William Burroughs’ novel, Junkie, details his addiction to the drug and the lifestyle he led in pursuit of it. It is, he says, “the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy”.

King George V
Not a user per se, but was euthanised with opiates. In fact, a mixture of opium and cocaine did it for the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II.

Thomas De Quincey
Made a career out of his opium habit. Wrote the florid Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker was a virtuoso alto saxophonist who hit New York aged 20. He created the modern jazz sound, veered back and forth between heroin and alcohol addiction, and was dead by the age of 34. The doctor who declared him dead estimated his age to be between 50 and 60 years old.

Effects of Heroin Use
During initial use, euphoria is often accompanied by a flushing of the skin, a dry mouth, heaviness in the limbs, and may involve nausea, vomiting, and severe itching. Relaxation and drowsiness are accompanied by a slowed breathing and pulse.

With long term use, psychological and physical addiction occurs and tolerance and craving for the effects of heroin develop. If heroin is not used regularly, the addicted user will experience withdrawal symptoms, for example hypothermia, stomach cramps, insomnia, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Overdose may lead to coma and death. Intravenous users risk developing bacterial infections of the blood vessels, heart valves, and heart lining, collapsed veins, skin abscesses, wound botulism, and tetanus, from the use of unsterile or blunt needles. Indirect and direct sharing of injection equipment places the user at high risk for contracting HIV and other blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis B, C, and G. Use during pregnancy may place a child at risk for developmental difficulties and there is an increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and foetal abnormalities.

Withdrawal syndrome
The withdrawal syndrome from heroin may begin within six to 24 hours of discontinuation of the drug; however, this time frame can fluctuate with the degree of tolerance as well as the amount of the last consumed dose. Symptoms may include sweating, anxiety, depression, priapism, extra sensitivity of the genitals in females, a general feeling of heaviness, cramp-like pains in the limbs, excessive yawning or sneezing, tears, rhinorrhea, sleep difficulties (insomnia), cold sweats, chills, severe muscle and bone aches, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and fever.

Heroin withdrawal is severe and could even be life-threatening. Patients need to be monitored very closely during this period and the withdrawal symptoms should be treated. Harmony Clinic provides excellent detox management, overseen by a medical doctor who specialises in withdrawal management.