Heroin Addiction Intervention Canada

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HEROIN

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

Heroin enters the brain, where it is converted to morphine and binds to receptors known as opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many areas of the brain (and in the body), especially those involved in the perception of pain and in reward. Opioid receptors are also located in the brain stem-important for automatic processes critical for life, such as breathing (respiration), blood pressure, and arousal. Heroin overdoses frequently involve a suppression of respiration. After an intravenous injection of heroin, users report feeling a surge of euphoria “rush” accompanied by dry mouth, a warm flushing of the skin, heaviness of the extremities, and clouded mental functioning.

Following this initial euphoria, the user goes on the nod an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Users who do not inject the drug may not experience the initial rush, but other effects are the same. With regular heroin use, tolerance develops, in which the users physiological (and psychological) response to the drug decreases, and more heroin is needed to achieve the same intensity of effect. Heroin users are at high risk for addiction-it is estimated that about 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.

What Adverse Effects Does Heroin Have on Health?

Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and-particularly in users who inject the drug-infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the abuser as well as from heroin's depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin often contains toxic contaminants or additives that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to vital organs. Chronic use of heroin leads to physical dependence, a state in which the body has adapted to the presence of the drug. If a dependent user reduces or stops use of the drug abruptly, he or she may experience severe symptoms of withdrawal.

These symptoms - which can begin as early as a few hours after the last drug administration-can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps and kicking movements. Users also experience severe craving for the drug during withdrawal, which can precipitate continued abuse and/or relapse. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose of the drug and typically subside after about 1 week. Some individuals, however, may show persistent withdrawal symptoms for months. Although heroin withdrawal is considered less dangerous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal, sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health is occasionally fatal. In addition, heroin craving can persist years after drug cessation, particularly upon exposure to triggers such as stress or people, places, and things associated with drug use.

Heroin abuse during pregnancy, together with related factors like poor nutrition and inadequate prenatal care, has been associated with adverse consequences including low birth weight, an important risk factor for later developmental delay. If the mother is regularly abusing the drug, the infant may be born physically dependent on heroin and could suffer from serious medical complications requiring hospitalization.


Please feel free to contact Canada Intervention directly if you require any further information or assistance regarding our Intervention Services in Canada.

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