Treatment Options for Heroin Addiction
Heroin is a devastatingly powerful opioid derived from poppy plants. Addiction to this drug triggers problems that ripple out beyond the end-user. Drug abuse is an epidemic that affects millions of Americans across U.S. Households today and this pressing issue has not decreased with the introduction of COVID and other daily stressors for young Americans living in 2021.
This drug not only causes serious medical repercussions for habitual users, but it’s also responsible for a variety of negative social outcomes. Heroin addiction causes enormous problems for families across the United States, while heroin-related issues also impact schools and workplaces. Not only do the costs run into billions of dollars annually, but the drug also damages these environments.
Offering the right heroin addiction treatment has never been more necessary. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health
✎ EditSign, there are almost 950,000 heroin users in the US, a number that’s been gradually increasing since 2007. Drug use is a commonly known plague that takes the lives of many young Americans each day.
The opioid epidemic has been instrumental in the rising number of heroin users. Heroin use is becoming an increasing danger, especially with COVID in the air and people’s mental health being rattled from isolation and sadness. Many people without any history of drug use prescribed opioid painkillers develop an addiction to these pills. Substance use disorder is a pressing issue in today’s world with more and more accessible avenues of obtaining the drugs. Sometimes, when unable to refill their prescriptions, people resort to using heroin scored on the street. In this way, there is a link between prescription opioids and heroin use.
While heroin is one of the most lethal drugs, there are also many myths surrounding this substance. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for many heroin users contemplating rehab is the idea that heroin addiction is the end of the line. Instead, with the right treatment, heroin use disorder can be treated just like any other chronic disease. Substance use disorder is a disease, and while there might be no cure, you can implement sustainable practices to get drug-free. It can be managed with effective treatment as we’ll highlight today.
Before we outline what to expect from the TDRC treatment program and its health services, some basic heroin facts.
Heroin: What Is It and How Is It Used?
Heroin is an opioid derived from morphine. Morphine is a naturally-occurring substance found in the seed pods of opium poppies grown throughout Asia, and also in Colombia, Mexico, and Afghanistan.
This poppy – Papaver somniferum – is the source of natural opioids. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid, meaning it’s man-made from naturally-occurring opium products.
Most of the heroin produced in South America comes in a whitish powdered form. The taste is acrid and bitter. Much of the heroin found on the streets of the western United States is black tar, a sticky and less pure form of heroin produced in Mexico. The darker color is due to the amateur processing techniques and the lower purity of this type of heroin. Not only is this form of heroin less pure, but it’s also typically injected rather than smoked or snorted. This exposes users to the potential risks associated with intravenous drug use, as well as the intrinsic danger of using an impure drug.
More disturbingly, a growing amount of heroin found on American streets is being cut with fentanyl. This is a synthetic opioid made in labs and up to 50 times stronger than morphine. The use of this lethally strong drug is increasing opioid dependence across the U.S.
When heroin is injected mixed with cocaine or crack, this is known as a speedball, the lethal combination that killed Hollywood actor James Belushi back in the early days of the crack epidemic.
What does heroin do, then, and what are the negative outcomes of using this deadly drug?
The Effects of Heroin
As an opioid, heroin affects both the brain and nervous system.
When you take opioids, the drug alters the levels of movement of neurochemicals in your brain stem. It’s this area of the brain that’s responsible for heart rate and breathing.
When you take heroin, the drug enhances feelings of pleasure. Many users describe the drug as a warm security blanket flooding the body with comforting euphoria. Heroin, like all opioids, also functions as a painkiller by disrupting the transmission of pain signals.
After the initial rush of heroin hits the body, users can expect any or all of the following short-term effects from the drug:
- Dry mouth
- Heavy limbs
- Flushed or clammy skin
- Nodding out (intermittently losing consciousness)
- Impaired cognition and mental function
- Total lethargy
What Happens with Long-Term Heroin Use?
Tolerance to heroin rapidly builds, and addiction soon follows. Not many people manage to maintain a casual heroin habit while going about their daily business.
Long-term heroin abuse and addiction brings with it a laundry list of negative consequences, including but not limited to the following:
- Collapsed veins (from injecting heroin)
- Damaged nasal tissue and septum (from snorting heroin)
- Lung complications (from smoking heroin)
- Constipation and issues with digestion
- Infected heart lining
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Mental disorders
- Sexual dysfunction (in males)
- Stomach cramps
- Increased risk of HIV/AIDS
- Heightened risk of HCV (hepatitis C)
Beyond these adverse side effects directly triggered by sustained heroin use, the cutting and bulking agents can also damage blood vessels while clogging arteries and causing lasting damage. In the case of fentanyl, the danger is further increased and could end up with heroin overdose.
There were more than 72,000 total drug overdoses in the United States in 2019 alone. Over the first half of 2020, this figure sharply increased due to the additional stressors caused by the global pandemic.
If you notice any heroin user with slowed breathing, this is one of the early warning signs of heroin overdose. As this happens, less oxygen reaches the brain, sometimes causing hypoxia, a condition that can trigger short-term and long-term mental problems. In some cases, this leads to coma and even death.
Someone overdosing on heroin requires immediate medical treatment. Naloxone can be administered to counter the effects of overdose, as long as it is used quickly. Emergency responders will often administer a shot of naloxone. The medication is also available in nasal spray form (Narcan) and as an automatic pen (Evzio).
Even if you have a shot of naloxone, the person still needs medical follow-up. Call 911 or take them directly to the ER.
So, with more people than ever before addicted to heroin, what’s the best method of heroin addiction treatment?
What Is The Most Effective Method of Heroin Addiction Treatment?
Most current research shows clearly that treating heroin use disorder with the aid of medication can deliver powerful benefits while also reducing the dangers associated with detox and withdrawal. Not only is overall retention in treatment improved, but there is less criminal activity and less transmission of diseases when clients engage with medication-assisted heroin addiction treatment.
One of the core advantages of MAT is the way some medications can help to reduce the intensity and severity of the withdrawal symptoms that typically accompany opioid withdrawal. Prescription medication can be used to alleviate insomnia, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, all common by-products of heroin detox. There’s also a highly effective non-opioid called Lofexidine. This FDA-approved medication diminishes the withdrawal symptoms to a more manageable level.
All the FDA-approved medications used to treat heroin use disorder work on the same opioid receptors that heroin targets. What you don’t get, though, are the adverse effects or the high delivered by raw heroin.
- Opioid agonists: These medications fully activate the opioid receptors
- Partial opioid agonists: These medications mildly activate the opioid receptors
- Opioid antagonists: These medications block opioid receptors while also interfering with the rewarding effects
From these groups, there are 3 medications typically used to treat heroin addiction:
Methadone is a slow-acting agonist that’s taken orally. This route of delivery ensures that the medication takes time to reach the brain.
This medication has been used worldwide to treat heroin use disorder since the 1960s.
If you have tried other medications without success, methadone could prove effective at helping you taper off heroin safely and sustainably.
Methadone is administered in a controlled setting through outpatient treatment programs.
This partial agonist goes some way toward relieving cravings for heroin without delivering the high triggered by opioids.
Suboxone is a form of buprenorphine that also contains naloxone.
This medication gained FDA approval in 2002. Generic versions were approved by the FDA in 2013, and an implant lasting for 6 months was approved in 2016.
Vivitrol is an opioid antagonist that interferes with the way opioids act. The medication doesn’t have to sedate properties, and it’s not addictive, either.
This medication is FDA-approved as an injectable. Only required once monthly, this removes the hassle and logistics of daily dosing for heroin addicts looking to break the chains of addiction.
Now, it’s not just medication that’s necessary for heroin addiction treatment. MAT works most effectively when it’s partnered with appropriate talk therapies and behavioral therapies.
CBT and Contingency Management for Heroin Addiction
Treatment for heroin addiction can be delivered in residential rehab, via partial hospitalization programs, or through outpatient rehab.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is especially effective for helping heroin addicts identify the triggers that lead them to use the drug. CBT will also teach workable strategies for life’s stressors that don’t involve shooting up half a gram of heroin.
With contingency management, healthy behaviors are incentivized and rewarded using a points-based system.
When you’re seeking treatment for heroin addiction, it’s also vital to address any underlying mental health conditions co-occurring with your drug addiction. We can help you with that and much, much more at TDRC.
Heroin Addiction Treatment Program at The District Recovery Community
Even if you’re still concerned about coronavirus, you should protect yourself and your health if you’re using heroin. Our friendly team of experts will demonstrate sustainable ways to implement a drug-free life and ultimately instill relapse prevention in long-run.
Entering heroin addiction treatment here at The District Recovery Community will help you through the painful withdrawal symptoms you’ll experience with FDA-approved medication. You don’t have to go through substance abuse disorder alone. With our compassionate team, a community of supporters, and vigilant cognitive behavioral therapy practices, we’ll shape you up for the most amazing transformative journey you’ll embark on in life- all to get back to being the best you, you can be. You’ll also build the skills to cope with cravings for heroin, gain friends, the knowledge that you can overcome your addiction, and the coping strategies to help you deal with life’s stressors without reaching for a needle.
To get things started, call us right now at 844.287.8506.