Being able to spot symptoms of this highly addictive drug can help get users into treatment faster. As a kid growing up in the 60s, I’d watch TV news reports of rock stars dying of heroin overdoses — Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin to name a few. Heroin, and signs of heroin use was scary to me and because it killed the idols of my generation, I figured people would see how dangerous it was, stay away from it, and it would eventually fade into oblivion.
ARE WE IN A FIX OR WHAT?
Fast forward to 2005. All of a sudden, I’m seeing kids in my sons’ high school dying of heroin overdoses. ‘How can this be?’ I thought. Didn’t heroin use die out with the hippie culture? Unfortunately no. Heroin, an opioid drug made from morphine, is one of the most dangerous drugs because of its addictive potential. It was becoming pervasive in my local high schools and I was concerned.
I wanted to know if this was simply a community problem or becoming pervasive nationally, so I called my local alternative paper. I knew some of the reporters there and wanted to ask if they were hearing anything about the rise in heroin use. They weren’t, but said they’d look into it. At that time, nothing about heroin use was being reported by the media and, sadly, it would be another 10 years before they started calling it a national health crisis.
SEEING LITTLE SIGNS ON THE BIG SCREEN
I knew something was terribly wrong the day I took my sons to the theater to see an action flick. About halfway through the movie, I looked over at them to see if they were enjoying it and it was clear that they were high. This chilling sight indicated they were high and had nodded off. Needless to say, I was very disturbed.
At home, I began to find aluminum foil crumpled up in odd locations. When I’d uncrumple the foil, there were black marks on it. I also found pens that had been taken apart so that the cylinder was separate from the other parts. That was my first clue they were being used by my sons to smoke heroin.
WHERE IT BECOMES DANGEROUS
Teens often get seduced into heroin addiction by being enticed to smoke it, versus its more insidious use — injection by needle. But smoking heroin eventually leads to shooting up as the user becomes more and more dependent on the drug. When people start shooting up, you’re likely to see signs of use by finding items like burned spoons, needles or syringes, and missing shoelaces.
Due to its physically and psychologically addictive qualities, experimenting with heroin can quickly lead to addiction.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR
Signs of heroin addiction vary among users, but common symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Hostility toward others
- Agitation and irritability
- Avoiding loved ones
- Weight loss
- Scabs or bruises as the result of picking at the skin
- Slurred speech
- Decreased attention to personal hygiene
- Inability to fulfill responsibilities at school or work
- Extreme drowsiness and increased sleeping
- Apathy and lack of motivation
- Slurred speech
- Severe itchiness
- Wearing long pants and shirts, even in warm weather
- Going “on the nod” during conversations
- Constricted “pinpoint” pupils
- Track marks on arms and legs
OVERDOSING CAN OCCUR QUICKLY
The side effects of heroin use get worse over time. The longer someone uses the drug, the more destructive it is to their immune system and internal organs. And the risk for getting communicable and noncommunicable diseases increases. Because heroin suppresses breathing and heart rates, there’s also a high risk of fatal overdose.
During 2017, over 15,000 people died from drug overdoses involving heroin in the United States, a rate of almost 5 deaths for every 100,000 Americans.
WHAT ABOUT TREATMENT?
Those addicted to heroin are often reluctant to seek treatment because they don’t feel their drug use has become a problem, or if they’ve tried and failed, they may find it impossible to quit. Quitting without help can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including depression, muscle pain and cold sweats.
It wasn’t long after finding my sons’ drug paraphernalia in our home that their father and I decided to get them help. We contacted a local treatment center and both boys successfully completed 30-day inpatient stays. I won’t say the rehab process was easy. It wasn’t. We attended a parent support group for a year to help us mitigate the mental and emotional havoc addiction wreaks on a family. Even today, there’s a concern that our sons could relapse. But, we’re all coping the best we can.
Heroin withdrawal often requires the help of a professional treatment center and medication to safely manage symptoms. For more information about heroin use, visit drugabuse.gov. If you are interested in information about treatment, contact Landmark Recovery at 888-448-0302.
About The Author
Freelance writer D.D. Kullman is a tennis player, snow skier, animal lover and early tech adopter. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, Joe, and Sheltie, Koko and is an adjunct instructor at Grand Canyon University.