Heroin is an illicit drug that is destroying communities across the United States. Heroin is made by refining morphine. Morphine is the product of refining the milky, sap-like substance from the seed of the Asian poppy plant. It is usually found to be used in white or brown powder form, but also as a black sticky substance called “black tar heroin”. Pure heroin is white, but since it is mixed with other chemicals its color varies. From rose gray, brown or black, the color change is a product of deluding. Heroin is mixed or “cut” with sugar, caffeine, strychnine, or other poisons. Some of these other poisons do not fully delude, which can ultimately result in clogged blood vessels and/or damage to vital organs; lungs, kidneys, or brain. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has estimated that most people with a heroin addiction also suffer from a psychiatric disorder. This existence of a co-occurring disorder only deepens the bond between the addict and heroin. This creates an even more dangerous situation, which is common with heroin addicts.

Prescription Drug Industry and Heroin

The Pharmaceutical Industry in the United States is enormous; ominous as a matter of fact. Pharmaceuticals are a $650 billion a year business worldwide, $307 of which is made in the United States alone. For several years it was the most profitable industry in the country. There is no surprise that addiction to prescription medication is an epidemic hitting homes all over the country. Prescription painkillers are legal opioids, which are very addictive. They are also a gateway drug to heroin. While this may sound like a bold, page jumping statement attempt; it is true. The majority of heroin addicts have admitted to graduating to heroin from prescription medications. When an individual gets sick or injured, they receive prescriptions for medications. When the prescription runs out they get it refilled, until they can no longer get professional permission for the medication or continue to afford the med’s. In order to keep their high they will then move on to a cheaper, more easily attainable drug. It is much cheaper than prescription medication, prevalent everywhere, has high potency, and it does not require the permission of a medical professional.

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

Prescription drugs have recently been labeled as the most common gateway drug in the nation. It has recently overtaken the number one spot from marijuana as a result of several studies as well as the increase in relation to overdoses. It has also taken over as the number one cause of fatality in this country, which was held by motor vehicle related incidents for decades. In the US, 52 million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime. In the past month survey, 6.1 people have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. The United States maintains 5% of the world’s population, while it consumes 75% of the world’s prescription drugs. There were enough prescription drugs prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult every four hours for one month. These statistics are just the tip of the ice burg and the reason why heroin abuse and addiction in this country is growing out of control.


There are roughly 13.5 million people in the world who take opioids. Of them, 9.2 million are abusing heroin. Opium is the raw material, abstract from poppy seed that makes heroin. Estimates for heroin use in the United States vary from a high of 900,000 to roughly 153,000 by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2007. The United States has released percentages for drug treatment in the US, from those numbers it is clear that 18% of admissions are from opiates; mainly heroin. In 2008, Admissions to Publicly Funded Substance Abuse Treatment Programs had heroin listed at 14.1% of admissions; from the 23.5 million totals. Opiate abuse and opiate addiction is estimated at costing Americans over $484 billion annually. This total includes healthcare costs and abuses of the healthcare system, lost wages car accidents, crime, and criminal justice system costs. It was estimated that fifty percent of major crimes in the United States were linked to opiate use and addiction. At least half of these were violent crimes. Reports from treatment centers state that two-thirds of opiate admissions were sexually abused as children. There were 93,519  heroin-related hospital Emergency Department episodes in 2002, according to The 2002 Drug Abuse Warning network (DAWN).The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported in 2009 that 605,000 Americans age 12 and older had abused heroin at least once. As the demand for heroin increased in the mid-90’s, as a result of prescription opioid abuse and addiction, there began a surge of Mexican heroin that still plagues American streets.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of heroin abuse are not always easy to identify, because addicts is actively trying to hide their addiction. If you suspect someone of using heroin then you should watch them for extended periods of time. You need to look out for things like shortness of breath. Reduced stimulation to this part of the body is due because heroin causes shortness of breath. This will occur without proper physical exertion. Dry mouth, after taking heroin the user will feel the ‘rush’ of euphoria and dry mouth. Constricted pupils, small pupils are not unique to heroin, but are a sign. Sudden changes in behavior or actions. Heroin is a serious drug that changes the addict physically, emotionally, and mentally. Disorientation, the addict in ‘nod’ mode of the high will be consciously unconscious. Cycles of hyper alertness followed by suddenly nodding off, is a sign of heroin abuse.  As previously stated, the ‘nod’ comes after the ‘rush’. A heroin addict will have a droopy appearance, as if their arms and head were unnaturally heavy.

Signs and symptoms that are unique to heroin abuse are things like finding needles or syringes not used for other medical purposes. If you find burned silver spoons around the house, that person is abusing heroin. Spoons are used to turn the powdered heroin into the liquid that is injected. Similar to burned spoons, aluminum foils or gum wrappers with burn marks. Missing shoe laces are signs that they are using them to tie off for injecting, not tying shoes. Straws with burn marks, small plastic bags, or water pipes are also signs of heroin abuse.

Individuals abusing heroin will have changed. The things in life that were once important will be forgotten. They will have terrible hygiene and appearance, loss of motivation, no interest in hobbies, and neglect responsibilities. An addict will begin to have decreased performance and efficiency at work, school, and in their social lives. If you have noticed any of these signs and signals it is time to reach out to someone to get the addict help.

Getting Help for a Heroin Addict

There is a reason that heroin is considered the most dangerous illicit drug available. Getting help for someone addicted to heroin is incredibly difficult, but not impossible. Helping an addict, regardless of the drug or substance, requires dedication and stamina. Addicts will kick and scream, still, cheat, manipulate, and do things you never thought were capable. Rehabilitation starts with education and a plan. Families and friends should be equipped with all the information that is physically possible before confronting the addict. Speaking for professionals like addiction advisors or professional interventionalists can increase efficiency and effectiveness of the plan. Interventions are a great tool for getting an addict to listen to what they are doing and how it is affecting those around them. If tough love, compassion, understanding, or an intervention does not work, then forceful treatment is an option (if it is legal in your state). New overdose treatment medications can be made available to loved ones of an addict if they are in risk of overdose. The best thing for families to do is get educated on heroin addiction and then plan an attack.