Today the Youth Forum begins a series on heroin and other drug addiction, following our prior spotlight on the Jordan Michael Filler Foundation, established to honor the memory of our friend, increase public awareness, and support the prevention and treatment of heroin addiction for the nation’s estimated 669,000 users (based on 2012 estimates; an 80% increase from 2007).
As explained in a succinct article by Susan Brink, heroin, when injected, is converted into morphine, altering neurons within the addict’s brain and turning on receptors that cause a rush of euphoria. Soon after, the user alternates between wakeful and drowsy states, sometimes for hours. The pleasure of the first rush of heroin doesn’t repeat itself, and becomes a very powerful, positive memory to be chased. For that reason, addiction can continue to grab hold of someone who has been clean for a long time. But addicts have no way of really knowing their own tolerance levels. As Brink explains, “the pleasure center, increasingly hard to satisfy, is screaming “More!” But primitive centers that control breathing and heart rate are not building up tolerance at the same pace and are whispering “Enough.” Heroin can block the continuation of heartbeats and breathing, causing an overdose. On top of this, addicts have no way of knowing what exactly they are ingesting and whether the heroin has been enhanced with an even more powerful substance like fentanyl, similar to heroin but many times more powerful. Every time someone injects heroin, they are at risk of an overdose, according to Jack Stein, director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. There is temporary help, if available, however (and if the overdosing addict is not alone). Naloxone is an injectable drug that can jump-start the area of the brain that tells the body to breathe and the heart to pump.
Next time we will begin to consider why addicts lie, the new emerging culture of recovery, and emerging considerations and challenges in the fields of health care, law enforcement, education, the need for increased availability of Naloxone and other areas that could begin to have an impact and save lives.