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Heroin Addiction

In 1898, the Bayer Company in Germany developed an opium derivative ten times more potent than morphine. This new drug was seen as a wonder drug and to suggest the heroic curative power of this new drug, its creators named it heroin. Heroin has transformed over the years from a prominent pharmaceutical drug to a very addictive and misused drug (Freeman 48). Heroin initially was available over the counter and was widely prescribed by doctors as treatment for many illnesses.

Heroin was perceived to be highly effective in relieving colds, emphysema, asthma, and tuberculosis. Heroin also was used to treat morphine addiction. It soon became apparent that heroin in fact was very addictive and people started to use the drug for their own pleasure instead of for medicinal purposes (Freeman 48). Heroin was found to be more toxic and habit forming than morphine. Heroin has a greater analgesic and euphoric property per gram than any other narcotic. Heroin gave people a feeling of euphoria even better than opium or morphine.

By 1919 nearly a quarter of a million people in the United States were addicted to heroin. The publics attitude toward narcotic addiction and the addict took a decidedly negative turn. Heroin for the first time was seen as an abusive, misused drug rather than a heroic curative drug it was originally employed to be. The U. S. government, realizing the drug problem, pushed legislation into controlling the use of heroin and other narcotics (Freeman 49). The Harrison Act of 1914, stated that all narcotics except those prescribed by the medical community were illegal.

Even with the passage of this act, illegal heroin use grew, and although the use and manufacture of heroin was outlawed in 1924, the use of heroin is still on the rise. The heroin problem still persists through to the present day regardless of the legislation passed (Freeman 48). Today heroin abuse exists in nearly every town and city across the country. From 1988 to 1994 the number of emergency room visits in which heroin was a contributing factor rose nationwide to 64,221 from 38,063, according to the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration.

This is just a microcosm of the heroin problem that faces our society today. Much of the heroin on Americas streets today is smuggled from other parts of the world (Freeman 52). On Valentines Day, 1988 in Bangkok, winter rains flooded the entire city, turning the city into a miserable swamp. Whitish puddles started to emerge from bundles of sheet rubber. The police ripped open the bundles and seized almost 2,400 pounds of pure China white heroin. This is the largest seizure of heroin uncovered anywhere in the world.

The authorities then uncovered a multi billion-dollar syndicate, which stretched throughout the world. This is one of many signs that massive amounts of heroin are being smuggled into the United States. The authorities have to devote more time in trying to control the inflow of heroin (Berger 160). The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Treasury Department, the Coast guard, State, and City Police Departments are all involved in attempting to halt drug trafficking. Some methods used for smuggling heroin are tapping drugs around their ankles or hiding heroin in with babies.

Smugglers are clever; one popular method used to smuggle heroin is swallowing long balloons filled with heroin. Smugglers cross the boarder re-entering the U. S. with the heroin hidden deeply in their stomachs. After they arrive safely in the U. S. they either regurgitate or excrete the balloons. The heroin eventually ends up on the streets of America, then onto the drug user (Berger 160). There are many ways of injecting heroin. Traditionally heroin was injected by needle, either just under the skin, (skin popping) into a muscle, (muscling) or directly into a vein (mainlining).

In order to be injected, the drug must be in liquid form. The powder is dissolved in water which users heat in a spoon over a match flame. In the early 1980s a link between intravenous drug use and AIDS was developed forcing the drug users to find a safer way to consume the drug. Strains of heroin now available allow the users to get high by sniffing the drug to avoid the danger of injection. Street heroin as well has transformed over the years by mixing it with other substances (Allen, Simonson 285).

Street market heroin today is almost always diluted. Sugar, starch, quinine, and powdered milk are frequently used. Over the years, more of these materials have been added to street heroin; as the available heroin becomes weaker, the heroin users are forced to use larger amounts to get the same effect. Most users consume around fifty milligrams of heroin daily, at a cost of 75 to 150 dollars a day. When one buys diluted heroin, his tolerance to the drug increases, so he needs more and more heroin (Berger 19).

Since there is no way to measure the purity of a bag of diluted heroin bought on the street there is always a danger of overdose. A mild overdose of heroin usually results in either a stupor or a very heavy sleep. A larger overdose may induce a coma, with completely limp, slow, shallow breathing, and cold clammy skin. In the most severe cases of overdose, the person goes into convulsions and stops breathing, resulting in death. Overdosing is not the only problem facing drug users; heroin users also face many withdrawal symptoms (Berger 19).

If the user can not get the drug they face the pains of withdrawal. The effects of withdrawal may include irritability, tremors, chills, sweating, vomiting, runny eyes and nose, muscle aches, abdominal pains, and diarrhea. The intensity of these symptoms depend on the amount used and the degree of dependence. Withdrawal symptoms reach their peak within 48-72 hours. Pains in the bones or muscles of the back, arms, and legs occur, leading to kicking movements; chills and goose bumps on the addicts skin often occur during cold turkey withdrawal, which is the sudden stoppage in narcotic use.

When the frequency and severity of these withdrawal symptoms increase treatment is needed (Berger 19). The methods and philosophies of the original techniques were quite different; but use the same criteria for success. Most treatment programs are seen as successful when the patients: 1) stop using heroin, 2) stop committing crimes, and 3) become productive members of society. An addict who stopped his criminal activities, and held a regular job but who continued to use heroin, would be a treatment failure. Success is based on abstinence.

Success in those terms has eluded all of the currently accepted treatment methods except methadone maintenance (Ashly 170). Methadone maintenance is not an abstinence program. Methadone is a narcotic powerful enough to block the effects of heroin. Methadone treatments were developed in response to the clear failure of all established treatment programs. The methadone treatment programs are still used today and have been very successful; some surveys show results as high as eighty-percent success rate. The only problem that arises with the methadone treatment is whether or not a person can become addicted to methadone.

Most heroin users first encounter with one of these treatment programs is when they are admitted to prisons and correctional facilities (Allen 286). Since the 1980s the number of drug offenders admitted to the correctional system has amplified. Since these drug offenders often cannot find a constant supply of drugs inside, some programs in the institution are available for dependency, and some have been successful. Nearly 95,000 people confined in correctional institutions alone were on some form of treatment for heroin dependency.

Should we spend money trying to incapacitate these people or spend millions a year in trying to develop community treatment programs? This is yet another problem that drug abuse has created for society (Allen 286). It is a piece of historical irony that the beginnings of heroin where as a miracle cure all, and heroin became one of the most addictive and destructive narcotics. Since its transformation into an abusive drug we have tried legislation and law enforcement to contain the problem. However, this has not been an affective solution, as heroin still continues to be a problem in our present society.

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