Thank you once again for returning for this day’s discussion on heroin and its many consequences.
The user of heroin will have a decreased mental function. In a sense, they will feel as if they are in a cloud. Their actions are often diminished. They’re breeding can slow down, and in fact, many even shut down causing respiratory arrest. Sandy would complain of a dry mouth and a heavy feeling in all of her extremities coupled with occasional bouts of nausea, vomiting, and restlessness. Hunger and thirst are decreased, leading to dehydration and malnutrition. Along with the initial euphoria, there can also be significant mood swings, lethargy, and depression. The lifestyle that’s Sandy led, as well as all other heroin users, was one of a constant threat of disease and violence.
A common practice in this culture is to combine heroin with cocaine. This is a practice called “speed balling.” Thus, combined with any side effects from the heroin, one must also deal with problems from the cocaine. This practice is more dangerous because drugs taken in combination can magnify not only the high but also their side effects. Speed balling is a deadly combination! This combination brings together a stimulant, the cocaine, with the heroin to cancel the effects of the drugs. The cocaine keeps a user from falling asleep or succumbing to the lethargy that the heroin brings not, and the heroin helps control the hyperactiveness that occurs when cocaine ingested.
There are many long term effects of heroin addiction. Because heroin is commonly injected intravenously, many added veins collapse. With most heroin users utilizing dirty needles to inject, they are at significant risk for infections in the right side of the heart as well as the valvular structures in the heart. This infection is called endocarditis. Communicable diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and the like are more common in those that inject heroin. But, the most serious side effect of heroin use is the respiratory depression that it causes. This can occur with a single dose, but as a person continues in their addiction, tolerance occurs. This transpired in Sandy’s life. She found herself having to take more and more of the drug to attempt to get a high. Respiratory depression or the slowing down of the breathing rate can be fatal, as the lungs and heart can slow down until they stop. I have personally witnessed, in my 18 years of medical practice, several individuals that were brought into the emergency room with respiratory failure from heroin use. In spite of all the medical efforts, they could not be saved. It is a common statement from their family or from their friends that they work continually escalating the amount of their heroin use.
Sandy would continue to let you know that during her active addiction to heroin that she would frequently be ill from colds or the flu. Heroin use suppresses the immune system, making the user more susceptible to infection. Heroin also disrupts the endocrine system. It can also lead to severe constipation, which can result in a bowel obstruction or a disease known as paralytic ileus, which is paralysis of the intestines.
There are not only consequences to the heroin drug itself but also to the additives it contains. The additives themselves can be poisonous. These additives are looked at as foreign chemicals to the body and can clog the bloodstream, especially in the blood vessels leading to the lungs, brain, kidneys, heart, or other vital organs. This leads to permanent damage to the organs, which the user of heroin will suffer for the rest of their life. A very horrific aspect of heroin use, especially of those who inject the drug intravenously is the high risk of communicable diseases such as HIV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. All of the above are severe viral infections that can ravage the body and even cause death.
Tomorrow we will continue to discuss the consequences of heroin use along with the topic of tolerance. I hope you will join me for Breaking Free From Heroin Part IV.