By Cathy Williams, MSW, LCSW, CEAP
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin is a synthetic form of morphine. Heroin is a naturally occurring substance that is abstracted from the Asian opium poppy plant. People abuse drugs for many reasons, such as curiosity, to feel good and to escape pain. Heroin use has increased in the suburbs, with women and those with higher incomes. The use of heroin has doubled among those 18-25 years old. There is a heroin epidemic in the St. Louis region due to being in close proximity to Chicago, decreased cost and increased availability in the powder form. Heroin addiction can be difficult to stop. Addiction can start gradually for some, or for others it can be immediate.
The risk factors for addiction include: genetics, early trauma such as abuse, neglect, violence and family dysfunction. Mental illness can also increase the risk of drug abuse due to self-medicating. For example, it is common for people to abuse drugs to decrease their symptoms of depression or anxiety. There is a strong connection between opioid abuse and heroin addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 45% of people who use heroin are also addicted to opioid pain pills. Prescription pain pills that are frequently abused are Oxycodone, Vicodin and Demerol. Cocaine, alcohol and marijuana are also frequently abused with heroin.
There are some warning signs of heroin abuse. With adolescents, look for borrowing of money, an increase in secrecy, decreased school performance and a change in friends. Paraphernalia used for heroin are: syringes, rubber tubing, belts, spoons, needles, bottle caps and small metal or glass pipes. Look for these physical changes: small pupils, nodding off, runny nose and covering of arms. People who use heroin may start to have legal problems; you may notice items missing in the home.
A major concern of heroin use is risk for overdosing. An overdose may occur when someone takes too much of a substance, usually a drug. Overdoses may be accidental or on purpose. An overdose can have serious health consequences or death. Overdoses have drastically increased due to higher purity of heroin. In 2008 the purity was 11% and since that time it has increased to 42%. According to the CDC, heroin has caused more deaths in the Midwest than anywhere else in the nation. The drug Narcan can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. If you suspect that someone has overdosed, call 911 immediately.
Fortunately there is help for those with a heroin problem. The addict’s denial can make it difficult for them to admit that they need help. They will have many excuses to justify their use. For most addicts to accept help they need to have a serious consequence. Getting professional help for the addict and family is crucial. It is important not to enable them. Enabling behaviors include giving them money or bailing them out of legal situations. There are detox programs for heroin that use maintenance drugs such as Methadone or Suboxone. These programs assist with the withdrawal symptoms. Chemical dependency programs provide helpful education and the opportunity to be with others who are struggling with the same issues. Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous are crucial for recovery. Family members and friends can benefit from Nar-Anon support groups since addiction is a disease that affects everyone around the addict.
BJC EAP is a great resource for help. BJC EAP consultants have Master's degrees and are licensed professionals. They are available to help the family and the person who is experiencing drug abuse problems. Please call 314.747.7490 anytime.