Heroin abuse and heroin addiction are on the rise among Americans. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that heroin use in the United States has increased five-fold in the past decade, and dependence on the drug has more than tripled. Moreover, 80 percent of Americans who admit to heroin abuse or addiction started by misusing prescription opioids.
What Is Heroin Abuse?
An opioid drug made from morphine, heroin is a highly addictive, illegal substance. The morphine used to make heroin comes from the seed pod of opium poppy plants. As sold on the street by drug dealers, heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance called black tar heroin. Common street names for heroin include horse, smack, chiva, junk, dope, and China white. The drug can be injected, snorted, or smoked to achieve the powerful high that generates ongoing heroin drug abuse and heroin addiction. Additionally, heroin abuse can quickly lead to heroin addiction, as users of the illegal drug develop a tolerance.
When used, heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells connected to the central nervous system (CNS). Heroin drug abuse amplifies the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which engenders a euphoric rush. Heroin abuse also affects the CNS receptors that control heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. Consequently, a heroin overdose is very dangerous: Breathing slows or stops during a heroin overdose, causing a respiratory crisis, hypoxia, and even death. According to the most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, death rates for drug overdoses among teens ages 15–19 were highest for opioids, specifically heroin. Yet only one in 12 adolescents who need treatment for opioid addiction receive it.