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Shooting Heroin: Side Effects and Dangers

Shooting Heroin: Side Effects and Dangers

What are the side effects and dangers of shooting heroin? The addictive effects of shooting up heroin can drive a person to spend as much as $200 a day to support their habit, according to the University of Maryland. As one of the opiate-type drugs, heroin’s “high” effects can quickly rope the brain and the body into an addictive cycle. The effects from intravenous or IV use are particularly intense, which makes it more difficult to stop using heroin.

If you’ve ever felt the side effects from stopping heroin use, you’re well aware of how uncomfortable the withdrawal symptoms can be. While it may be hard to stop using, continued IV heroin use leaves you open to a range of health problems, not to mention the dangers involved each time you inject the drug into your body, such as contracting HIV, Hepatitis C, or skin infections.

Once a person reaches the peak “high” effects, a warm flush runs through the skin as the arms and legs become heavy. Shortly thereafter, the “nod” period sets in where a person becomes semi-conscious for several hours. During the “nod” state, breathing processes can slow to the point where respiratory failure occurs, depending on a person’s overall health status. Some people may also experience severe itching, nausea, dry mouth and vomiting shortly after taking an injection.


Pure Heroin vs. Cut Heroin

Heroin used to be a legal medicinal drug until its addictive properties became apparent. As an opiate drug, heroin was prescribed mostly to treat pain symptoms. The drug was finally banned in 1914 under the Harrison Narcotics Act. Today, illegal or “street” heroin comes in a wide variety of different colors and textures, mostly because of the different additives used during the manufacturing process.

Practically any brand of heroin can be used when shooting up unless it’s specifically prepared for snorting purposes. Pure heroin appears as a white powder that’s bitter to the taste, but it’s rarely sold or made available in its pure form, at least not on the street. Most heroin comes in different colors that fall somewhere between white and dark brown. When manufactured, additives, such as powdered milk or quinine, help to stretch out the supply so more of the drug can be sold per batch.

Whether used in its pure form or its diluted form, ongoing heroin use can have devastating effects on your body and brain processes. While the purer forms may cause less damage, the potential for addiction remains the same.

Intravenous and Intramuscular Uses

Shooting up heroin involves injecting the drug into a vein, though some people switch to injecting into a muscle once an overused vein collapses. The paraphernalia used to inject heroin include:

  • A hypodermic needle
  • Cotton balls for straining the liquid
  • A spoon for “cooking” or liquefying the drug
  • A tie-wrap for wrapping around the arm so the vein protrudes

Between intravenous, intramuscular and snorting, intravenous use provides the quickest and most intense high with peak effects setting in at seven to eight seconds after injecting. Peak effects from intramuscular methods happen within five to eight minutes, while snorting takes anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Peak effects involve extreme feelings of euphoria or happiness, which is the most addictive quality of the drug.

Heroin Toxicity Rates

Much like the time it takes for heroin to produce its peak “high” effects, this drug also reaches its peak levels of toxicity within set periods of time. Toxicity has to do with heroin’s poisonous qualities in terms of how the drug targets and destroys certain types of cells in the brain and body. According to Medcape Reference, time periods for peak toxicity vary depending on how heroin is ingested.

  • Within 10 minutes for IV or intravenous use
  • Within 30 minutes for intramuscular use
  • Within 30 minutes when snorted
  • Within 90 minutes when injected under the skin

Effects on the Brain

The human brain contains a large number of neurons that release endorphins or “feel good” chemicals. The brain secretes endorphins throughout the central nervous system as a pain-relief mechanism. Endorphins also create a calming or sedating effect for the emotions and the nerves that run through the body. These neurons also have built-in opiate receptors that respond to certain types of drugs, such as heroin, morphine and cocaine.

Heroin’s chemical makeup is similar to that of brain endorphins so it naturally binds to the opiate receptors in the brain. If a person shoots up heroin on a regular basis, the effects of the drug will gradually damage the brain’s overall ability to function normally. Most of this damage takes place in the central nervous system, which regulates motor functions, thought processes, impulse control and memory.

Over time, the brain gets used to heroin’s effects. Brain cells start to require more of the drug in order to produce the same “high” effects. In the process, the brain develops an ongoing tolerance for heroin so a person can a reach point where no amount of the drug will produce the desired effects.

Effects on the Body

If you use heroin on a regular basis, the drug’s continued effects on your nervous system will become more and more apparent the longer you use. The body’s muscles gradually grow weaker as nerve functions continue to deteriorate. Over time, repeated injections can cause veins to collapse and turn skin cell areas into ulcerated sores, abscesses or holes.

Depending on the quality of heroin used, the additives used in the making of the drug can leave residues in the body’s blood vessels. Residue buildup in vessels leading to the lungs, brain, kidney and liver can place a person at serious health risks, especially when ongoing use is an issue.

One particular brand of heroin, known as “black tar,” can be especially dangerous as it may contain any one of a number of additives. Black tar appears as a dark, gummy substance. Additives used to make black tar may include:

  • Burned cornstarch
  • Instant coffee
  • Dirt
  • Dextrose

In the process of “cooking” a batch of black tar, bacterial spores can enter the drug solution. Once the drug is injected, these spores can damage and even kill the body’s muscle, skin and organ tissues.

Adolescent IV Heroin Usage

Heroin use is prevalent among the adolescent age group as well as among adults. As of 2007, there were over 1,600 treatment centers specifically designed to help adolescent heroin users. According to statistics gathered by the Treatment Episode Data Set Report, usage trends for adolescent heroin users include:

  • The average age of an adolescent’s first experience with heroin was 14.8 years old.
  • Average age at admission to a treatment facility was 16.3 years old.
  • Most adolescents had been using for at least 18 months before seeking out treatment.
  • Over half of the adolescents admitted had at least one prior treatment episode during the 18-month period.

Medical Complications of Shooting Heroin

Medical complications from IV heroin use can happen at any time as ongoing damage to the body leaves a person more vulnerable to the effects of each dose or “fix.” Once a person reaches the peak “high” effects, a warm flush runs through the skin as the arms and legs become heavy. Shortly thereafter, the “nod” period sets in where a person becomes semi-conscious for several hours. During the “nod” state, breathing processes can slow to the point where respiratory failure occurs, depending on a person’s overall health status. Some people may also experience severe itching, nausea, dry mouth and vomiting shortly after taking an injection.

Long-time users have suffered considerable damage to the body, which makes a medical catastrophe even more likely. After long-term use, a person can develop infections throughout the body, some of which appear along the heart lining and valves. Lung-related problems, such as pneumonia, become more of an issue the longer a person uses. Ongoing damage to the liver can cause layers of scar tissue to form. Over time, the liver becomes incapable of functioning. After a certain point, liver disease can set in.

Addiction/ Withdrawal Effects

Withdrawal effects from stopping heroin can last as long as a week for long-time users. As heroin mimics the brain’s endorphin chemicals, the body has come to rely on the calming effects of the drug. Once addicted, the body requires these effects in order to function normally. This means the brain and body will undergo severe withdrawal effects when the drug is no longer ingested.

These effects happen in the central nervous system, so every area of the body can go through withdrawal symptoms. Some of the symptoms experienced may include:

  • Drug cravings
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bone pain
  • Mental and physical fatigue

Withdrawal symptoms are typically the worst during the first 48 to 72 hours after the last heroin dose. For many people, staying off the drug becomes incredibly hard because of the withdrawal effects. Even though no actual high is experienced, a person may still keep shooting up to avoid going through withdrawal symptoms.

Fortunately, detox centers can prescribe medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine to help ease the effects of withdrawal. If you find yourself wanting to stop using heroin but can’t get passed the withdrawal effects, call us. We can help you find the best luxury residential treatment center for your special needs.

Heroin Treatment Rates

Heroin usage patterns may have an influence on the likelihood of a person seeking out treatment, according to the Drug & Alcohol Services Information System. Between the years of 1995 and 2005, the number of treatment admissions of people injecting the drug decreased by 6 percent. For those who inhaled heroin, admission rates increased by 6 percent within the same time period. Treatment approaches used may also tend to vary based on how heroin is used. Treatment approaches and rates within the 1995 to 2005 period were reported as follows:

  • Medication-assisted therapy rates decreased by 24 percent for injection users.
  • Medication-assisted therapy rates remained the same in cases where patients inhaled heroin on a regular basis.
  • Rates for ambulatory care remained the same for both groups.
  • Rates of admissions to residential and rehabilitation treatment centers increased for both groups.

Shooting Heroin Can Lead to Death

One of the most pressing dangers associated with ongoing heroin IV use is the possibility of overdosing. An overdose can occur at any time; even after the very first time a person shoots up. Since the “street” form of heroin comes in so many different varieties, strengths and cuts, there’s no real way to know how strong a particular batch is.

The potential for overdose has to do with the way the brain and body develop a tolerance for the drug. As larger and larger doses are needed to produce the same “high” effects, too large a dose can actually shut the body’s respiratory system down. Overdose symptoms may also cause convulsions, mental confusion and comatose states. These conditions require immediate medical attention.

IV heroin use also leaves a person open to contracting diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C through the sharing of needles and paraphernalia or equipment. Anytime you share needles, cotton swabs or “cooking” equipment with other people, any virus can enter the drug solution. When this happens, anyone who injects the drug also injects the virus.

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