For a long time, heroin wasn’t seen as something that could affect anyone. Heroin was a niche drug, a drug for the counterculture. Jazz and rock musicians used heroin, along with desperate people in inner cities stumbling from fix to fix. Suburbs, rural areas, the upwardly mobile… heroin didn’t touch them.
Opiate use is now pervasive; whether from overgenerous prescriptions or bags purchased on the street, opiates are widely available in most geographies and demographics.
Heroin and Arizona
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s “National Drug Threat Assessment Survey for 2013” had some sobering facts in it. According to the report, agents from the United States Customs and Border Patrol confiscated 232 percent more heroin nationwide in 2013 than it did in 2008. Drugs that manage to make it through leave a deadly mark. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there were 1,106 drug deaths in the state.
But the gateway into street opiates like heroin are prescription painkillers like OxyContin. Doug Coleman, DEA special agent for Phoenix, told Arizona State University’s Cronkite News Service 80 percent of all U.S. heroin addicts start out by abusing prescription drugs. “The prescription drugs that are abused the most are the opiate-based prescription drugs, the OxyContins, the oxycodones, the hydrocodones,” said Coleman. Since pain pills are expensive and prescriptions stop getting filled, many untreated addicts move towards cheaper street opiods like heroin.
Arizona’s close proximity to Mexico makes some of its cities, like Tucson, ideal for smugglers. An analysis by Cronkite News of data from the Arizona Department of Health Services’ Bureau of Public Health Statistics discovered that Pima County had almost twice the amount of overdoses than any other county in the state. Mazda Shirazi, M.D., director of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona, told Cronkite News that “it’s easy to distribute heroin to California, Texas and Colorado from Tucson. Smugglers bring it to the largest community close to the border because it’s easier for them to disappear.”
Heroin’s effects on the body
Heroin is processed from morphine, a substance that is extracted from certain types of poppy plant. Sold as a powder or as a black, tarry substance, heroin’s effects are similar to those of pharmaceutical opiates. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin binds itself to receptors in the brain called mu-opioid receptors. When these receptors are activated by opiates, they release a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which creates a sensation of pleasure in the body. Long-term abuse of opiates can cause brain damage, creating chemical imbalances in the body that can be hard to reverse. Additionally, the body becomes more tolerant of heroin abuse, requiring more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect.
Stopping heroin use causes the body to go into withdrawal. Heroin withdrawal has been described as a terrible flu, with symptoms including intense nausea, vomiting, pain and insomnia. Heroin withdrawal is well-known for its difficulty, and often requires clinical assistance.
Heroin addiction, like any addiction, is a disease that can be treated. The Arizona Detox Helpline has information on detoxification treatment programs 24 hours a day. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to prescription painkillers or opiates, please call us at 866-593-8453 or contact us via online chat.