Opium, the poppy plant derivative used to make heroin, was first referred to in 3400 B.C. in Mesopotamia. It has been abused in the U.S. since after the American Civil War, and its use despite criminalization has continued to skyrocket, resulting in the overcrowding of prisons, hospitals and mental health treatment facilities.
The use of heroin has resulted in suicide, lost wages, child abuse, illegal drug trafficking, mental health disparities, increased crime rates, broken families and infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. There have been no benefits from heroin abuse; only the drug lords have profited by making millions of dollars illegally.
The United States heroin supply mainly comes from crops grown in Mexico, and the DEA has been attempting to prevent these crops from entering the country. However the underground drug trade continues to circumvent the law. Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and now Obama have each engaged in the war on drugs, in particular against opioids, and each without much success. This is proven by the U.N. World Drug Report 2016, which was recently released and indicated that 2016 has seen the highest rate of heroin use in the past 20 years.
Problems with prescription opioids
Heroin is just one type of opioid. It is 100 percent natural, unlike synthetic prescription opioids such as fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone. Prescription opioid abuse has also been on the rise, resulting in President Obama pledging $1.1 billion to fight the opioid epidemic, which resulted from prescription painkillers.
Opioid overdose is lethal and has resulted in too many deaths, not only this year but in the past century. The addiction cycle is vicious, aggressive and nearly impossible to relinquish due to the severe side effects caused by withdrawal. Although opioid withdrawal does not result in death, it can present with some of the worst physical symptoms such as extreme muscle pains, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and irritability. These withdrawal symptoms cause many individuals to relapse and use heroin in an attempt to alleviate the physical pain from withdrawal.
With the heroin epidemic on the rise, drug treatment centers are becoming more overcrowded. Even the pharmacological treatments used to treat withdrawal symptoms, such as Methadone, Suboxone and naltrexone, are being abused.
There is no clear solution to reducing or eliminating heroin use in the United States. Many believe that the preventive approach through education and social programs is the best way to decrease the abuse potential. Educational programs to reduce narcotic use provide physicians with information on pain treatment and provide schools with narcotic use preventive strategies.
There is even a plan to deter heroin crops. However, this last measure may or may not do too well, as the owners of the land used to produce these crops want nothing to do with the drug itself. Neither do the young children who are used as pickers due to serious financial needs in their families. Land owners instead blame it on the individuals who choose to abuse the drugs produced from the crop.
Sovereign Health of California is a leading behavioral health care provider that treats people with addiction to substances like prescription drugs, as well as mental health conditions and dual diagnosis. For more information on our treatment programs for opioid addiction, call the 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at Sovereign Health and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.