What is heroin:
Heroin is a highly addictive opiate drug. In its pure form it is a white powder that can be swallowed or dissolved in water and injected into a vein.
Heroin is four times more addictive than morphine and prolonged users have a life expectancy of 40 years.
How heroin is taken:
Heroin in powder form is smoked, sniffed, or it can be dissolved in water using citric acid and saline water to break the heroin down when heating it on foil and injected into a vein. Most commonly used injection sites on the body are the arm and groin, or ‘skin popping’ or using ‘any available vein’ to shoot up. Heroin can also be sniffed or inhaled when heated (this is sometimes called 'chasing the dragon'). Speedballing is where cocaine and heroin are injected simultaneously.
Injecting heroin offers the quickest and most intense effect, whereas smoking results in an immediate but less intense response. Smoking heroin is replacing injecting heroin in popularity as this method removes risks such as blood diseases, tetanus and even amputation caused by injecting.
Where heroin is taken:
Heroin can be taken indoors as well as out in the open in alley ways and doorways. Recently Ireland passed legislation for supervised injection centers to provide a safe and clean injection facility for drug addicts to inject themselves. As well as this, it integrates drug addicts back into society and gives them access to medical and rehabilitation options.
The profile of heroin users has changed over the last few years in Dublin 15 specifically. The number of heroin users entering treatment is declining; clients are an ageing population of long term users, with less young people accessing treatment.
Why people take heroin:
Opiates, like heroin have a depressant and calming effect on the user and are known to reduce the effects of anxiety, fear and discomfort in the user.
Initially when taken, heroin creates a euphoric state for the user. However, prolonged users become immune to this euphoria and continue using heroin to avoid the dreaded withdrawal, which begins 4-12 hours after the last dose of heroin is taken. Withdrawal effects include flu like symptoms, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, insomnia, profound sweating, and muscle spasms as well as the psychological effects of withdrawing from heroin.
In some circumstances heroin use is an inter-generational problem.
“I see their kids now who are using, going down that road themselves cos its normal, its acceptable, they know no different...It’s a generation thing...There’s one family I know and [they have several] generations of heroin users.”
- Participants 47, Family member, DATMS report 2016
Effects of using heroin:
Long term addiction to heroin leaves the user with craving the drug in larger quantities daily. While the euphoric feeling they initially had from heroin is no longer, they continue to use to avoid the severe physical and psychological effects of withdrawal.
Physical damage from long-term heroin use include blood poisoning. Abscesses which may result in amputation of body parts due to injecting in them, inflammation of the heart and veins, clots, and blood born viruses such as hepatitis A, B and C and HIV.
“We have two users who come into Ana Liffey to have abscesses on their legs dressed. The flesh on their legs have become necrotic. When they walk maggots fall from their legs.”
-Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey drugs project via The Irish Times.
A heroin users tolerance develops rapidly and therefore, larger amounts of the drug are needed to sustain the user. This can lead to over-dose as only 10-60% of heroin bought on the street is pure.
Overdoses are a high risk in users who have been detoxified and then inject their ‘usual’ dose and cannot tolerate it.
Isolation from friends, family and people who support and can help them is another consequence of heroin abuse. Often addicts steal from people around them to feed their habit and eventually, these people lose patience and understanding. Often this can result in homelessness.
People with serious drug addiction, like heroin, are unlikely to be able to keep a job to earn money for their drug habit. Desperation leads them to do illegal, desperate and dangerous activities such as prostitution, burglaries, begging, shop-lifting and other crimes to get quick and easy cash. This can result in a criminal conviction and prison sentence when caught.
Heroin addiction may lead to more drug abuse. The majority of crack cocaine user sin Dublin had long-term drug problems that began with heroin, they then moved to methadone and then to crack cocaine ‘to get a buzz’.
“The same myself, you go onto heroin first and then...inevitably onto methadone...and then you think what else can I take to get a buzz. So, you’re gona take a load of tablets with methadone...Then if you want a different buzz altogether you’re gona smoke crack.”
- Participants 74, Treated drug users, DATMS 2016 report.
Research completed by DATMS in 2016 confirm that the number of heroin users entering treatment is declining in Blanchardstown; clients are an ageing population of long term users, with less young people accessing treatment.
While Methadone is an opiate, it is prescribed for heroin addicts to reduce their withdrawal symptoms without producing the "high" that usually accompanies the drug addiction. A medical team typically manages this treatment. However, addiction service providers in Dublin 15 reported that methadone alone was insufficient to support recovery from heroin misuse. Counseling and rehabilitation services need to be an integral part of each clients care plan if they are to successful stop taking heroin and methodone. There is a list of treatment facilities in Dublin 15 available for you to contact today.