Heroin Overdoses and the Silent Dangers

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Largely unprecedented, experienced users and novices, alike, are overdosing on heroin at an ever increasing rate with silent dangers that need to be recognized and treatment efforts that need to be expanded.

Heroin Overdose Facts

The CDC reports that from 2000- 2014, “the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin).”  No other year on record has shown more people dying from drug overdoses in the United States than in 2014 where 28,647 deaths or 61% of 47,055 drug overdose deaths involved an interrelated trend of “deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers and a recent surge in illicit opioid overdose deaths, driven largely by heroin.”

Heroin Abuse Contributing Risk Factors

Heroin Overdoses

Heroin use is becoming more prevalent among women and the higher income bracket.

There are several contributing factors to the epidemic rise in heroin overdoses with past misuse of prescription opioids being the strongest.  These risk factors increase with the availability, potency, and cheaper costs that heroin has to offer for those who are opioid dependents.  DEA crackdowns on “pill mills” and unscrupulous overprescribing practices, along with redesigned formulations that make prescription opioids more difficult to inject and slower to release, also play a role in the initiation of heroin abuse and subsequently, overdoses.

When prescription opioids are unavailable or too costly, heroin fills the void and once used, the immediate, euphoric, effects are hard to be re-captured by almost any other opioid drug.  Typically snorted or injected, certain heroin molecules are able to cross blood-brain barriers rapidly and according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, there is a direct relation “of this rapid penetration of the blood-brain barrier by heroin to its strongly addictive properties.”  It is this rapid and intense effect that depresses the central nervous system to stop breathing and slow down the heart rate leading to death.

Recent Trends

Demographics show that some of the greatest increases in heroin use are occurring with women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes, a differing trend from the past.  Crossing the southern border is black tar heroin that has been, reportedly, some of the more potent and pure form of heroin due to its manufacturing process that increases or retains the psychoactive molecules, 3-MAM (3-monoacetylmorphine) and 6-MAM (6-monoacetylmorphine).

Another alarming trend is the use of illicitly manufactured fentanyl passed off as heroin or mixed in with heroin doses to increase profits for the distributors and dealers. According to the CDC, “Based on reports from states and drug seizure data, however, a substantial portion of the increase in synthetic opioid deaths appears to be related to increased availability of illicit fentanyl.”

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid designed for slow release pain management and comparably more than 80 times stronger than morphine.  Typically used to treat chronic and severe pain, prescription fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze) may be administered via trans-dermal patches, injection, or lozenges.    On the street, fentanyl may be called China white, China girl, Apache”, goodfella, TNT, Tango and Cash, and others.

What too many heroin abusers are unaware of is the presence and potency of this variant mixture in every possible dose of heroin they consume.  According to the CDC, “Toxicology tests used by coroners and medical examiners are unable to distinguish between prescription and illicit fentanyl”, but, it is this silent danger that is making waves in society as one of the most problematic contributors to the epidemic rises in heroin overdose deaths, today.

What to do in the Event of a Fentanyl Overdose

Expanding Needs for Heroin Addiction Treatment

The longest running histories of treatment for heroin addictions involve methadone and buprenorphine detox and maintenance programs.  Heroin users are most often involved in the combination use of other opioids and drugs that amplify the effects and cause many of the overdoses witnessed in both fatal and non-fatal cases.   Non-fatal overdoses have their own implicated dangers in causing hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain), lung, heart, and other vital organ damages, as well as the premature deaths resulting from diseases and infections.

Naloxone is an antagonist medication that is able to reverse opioid effects in a person who is overdosing, but, addicts are usually alone when they inject and therefore, an overdose may go unrecognized.  In their desperations to get the fix quickly, they also tend to disregard any possible dangers so, treatments must be expanded to reach the broad range of users who are naïve to the costs of their heroin use and above all prevent the onslaught of damages as a result. To learn more about the dangers of heroin or for help finding treatment, call 800-584-3274 today.


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