Seemingly every day, there are more and more tragic stories about heroin overdose, leaving their families to pick up the pieces. As lawmakers continue to avoid addressing the heroin epidemic in the U.S., the overall landscape of drug addiction is becoming increasingly dire for those involved.
This comes as no surprise; as of 2012, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health provided an estimate 669,000 Americans had used heroin in the past year. As a result, a rapidly growing number of overdoses have occurred, usually resulting in death.
How Does Heroin Dependency Begin?
Heroin is a particularly aggressive street opioid, producing more pronounced versions of the euphoria and dissociative effects of pain medications like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine. Most heroin users become addicted to these other drugs first. As these drugs become harder to get or are too expensive, users begin to search for a cheaper, stronger alternative. In most cases, this substitute is heroin.
When a heroin addiction develops, it is harder to quit than many other substances in part due to the comparative intensity of the withdrawal symptoms. Heroin users often experience depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders as well as insomnia, vomiting and other reactions, the culmination of which is referred to as being “dope sick.”
Why Are Overdoses Such a Huge Problem?
Of course, any drug used in medical settings or bought and sold on the street can trigger an overdose if taken excessively, but heroin is responsible for more overdoses largely due to its basic nature. The first time a user takes heroin, especially intravenously; they feel an incredibly intense euphoria. With each subsequent session with the drug, the user has to take higher doses to feel the same sensations because their body is building up a dependency. Over time, this will almost certainly result in an overdose.
Heroin Overdose Statistics
- Heroin-related overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010
- From 2014 to 2015, heroin overdose death rates increased by 20.6%, with nearly 13,000 people dying in 2015
- In 2015, males aged 25-44 had the highest heroin death rate at 13.2 per 100,000, which was an increase of 22.2% from 2014
- Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015
- Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015
- From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel
- The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate
How Do Overdoses Occur and How Are They Treated?
Overdoses can occur a few ways. As with any drug, especially one that the body and brain build up a dependence to over time, an overdose can be triggered by simply taking too much of the drug. Additionally, since heroin isn’t legal and therefore receives no regulatory oversight, heroin bought on the street is often laced with more potent drugs like fentanyl.
Users experiencing heroin overdoses will usually exhibit some of these symptoms:
- Unresponsive, unable to talk or unconscious
- Choking and vomiting
- Skin, lips, and fingernails turning an ashen color
- Limp body and slow or nonexistent pulse
Immediate intervention for a heroin overdose has become a vital factor for the rate of survival. In the short term, medical professionals will administer naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of an opioid overdose, allowing the user to become stable in a hospital setting.
Once the user is at no longer in immediate danger, rehabilitation and detox facilities can provide effective treatment. To counteract the effects of heroin withdrawal, medical facilities have had success with naltrexone as a way to mimic the sensations of taking opioids without the harmful effects.
The Importance of Seeking Treatment
It’s important to note that not all heroin overdoses result in death, but many will. Tens of thousands of Americans lose their lives each year due to a heroin overdose, and thousands more will lose loved ones.
If you or a loved one is suffering from heroin dependency, the time to get help is now. A rehabilitation facility with medical and therapeutic professionals is the best way to facilitate effective detox and full recovery.