It’s no secret that heroin and opioid addiction have gained an epidemic status in our nation. The New York Times has called this problem, “America’s 50-state epidemic.”

The National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that in 2014, over two million people suffered from an opioid prescription substance use disorder, and approximately 467,000 were addicted to heroin. That’s no small sum.

Perhaps even more disturbing, though, is that many of these people could receive treatment to help overcome and manage their addiction. Yet few ever do.

More than ever, heroin and opioid addiction are treatable, especially with medication-assisted therapy, such as buprenorphine treatment, counseling, and behavioral therapy options.

Knowing what heroin is, what opioids and opiates are, the effects of them, examples of them, and available treatments can help prepare you for finding hope and healing in drug rehab. Help is available for heroin and opioid addiction, and recovering is simply a matter of accepting help.

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What Is Heroin?

“Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the Asian poppy opium plant,” according to the NIDA. It’s available as a brown or white powder, or as a black, sticky substance called black tar heroin.

Heroin And Opioid Addiction_OpiatesThe drug has several street names, including junk, smack, dope, and horse. People abuse heroin by injecting, snorting, or smoking it. Some even mix it with cocaine or other stimulants to enhance the effects of both drugs, known as a speedball.

So, what is it about heroin that makes it so dangerous, even deadly? The drug, like all opioids, works by changing the way your brain responds to pain and reacts to pleasure. When heroin enters your body, it binds to opioid receptors in the brain, changing back to morphine.

Within the first few minutes of taking heroin, you experience an immediate “rush” feeling, usually accompanied by feelings of euphoria, well-being, and calmness. Some short-term side effects of this rush and the following “high” include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Confusion/clouded mental functioning
  • Drifting between consciousness and semi-consciousness (going “on the nod”)
  • Flushed skin
  • A weighted feeling in the hands and feet

At first, this may seem like a welcome effect. It’s why many people choose to abuse heroin, again and again, chasing the rush and high they first experienced. With time, though, chasing heroin becomes not a choice, but a need.

That’s because even after taking heroin for a few times, you can become addicted. First, you might start experiencing strong cravings or urges to take the drug. Then, you’ll start compulsively seeking it. If you can’t get it, you may even start feeling withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Cold flashes and goosebumps
  • Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Sleep Troubles

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms is a sign of dependence, which means your body has become dependent on the drug. Dependence often precedes addiction. And once you’ve become addicted to heroin, it can be extremely difficult to quit without help.

This is especially true if you build a tolerance to the effects of the drug. If you can’t feel the effects and are experiencing heightened withdrawal symptoms, you may start taking more and more heroin to try to quell these feelings and find that rush again.

Yet even with a tolerance, your body can only process so much of the drug. This is how overdose occurs: through an excess buildup of a substance in the body. Heroin overdoses claim thousands of victims each year. In 2015 alone, 12,990 people in the United States suffered a fatal heroin overdose, according to the American Society Of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).

What Are Opioids Or Opiates?

What’s the difference between opioids and opiates? The term “opioids” used to include only synthetic opioids but now refers to the entire family of opioids and opiates. “Opiates” refers to non-synthetic opiate drugs.

Heroin And Opioid Addiction_OpioidsSince the term “opioids” includes all opioids and opiates, that’s how we’ll refer to the drugs here. Heroin is an illicit opioid, while prescription drugs like fentanyl and codeine are legally prescribed medications used to treat moderate to severe pain.

Abuse of prescription opioids in America has become rampant. In fact, the NIDA reports that opioid prescriptions are one of the top three most abused prescription drug classes.

Like heroin, prescription opioids produce feelings of calm, euphoria, and relief from pain by way of changing your perception of pain and your response to pleasure. Essentially, opioids produce an immediate, euphoric feeling which distracts you from the pain and changes the way your body and brain respond to it.

Just as with heroin, with prescription opioid abuse, you may experience an immediate rush (in the first few minutes) followed by a high (within 30 minutes up to a few hours, release time depending on the type of drug).

What many people may not realize is how dangerous it can be to abuse prescription opioids. We tend to associate drugs given to us by a doctor as safe and free from harm. Even when taken as directed, addiction can result from opioid prescriptions. Opioids change your brain communication pathways, so taking them can quickly cause cravings and dependence.

In addition, when you change the administration of drugs, such as crushing and snorting the extended-release pills to get faster effects, you put yourself at heightened risk. As the NIDA states, “tampering with extended release and using by nasal, smoked, or intravenous routes produces risk both from the higher dose and from the quicker onset.” This is what increases your risk of overdose.

The effects of prescription opioids include many of the same side effects of heroin, but also include other possible effects like constipation and drowsiness. Also as with heroin, opioid addiction can result in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin and opioid addiction may seem like endless cycles from which it’s impossible to escape. Yet treatment is available: medication can help ease withdrawal and manage symptoms, and inpatient rehab centers, certified medical staff, and evidence-based therapy can all contribute to helping people not only overcome addiction but manage it long-term.

Heroin And Opioid Abuse In America

The New York Times states, “public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst crisis in American history, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015.” Drug overdose is now the largest cause of accidental deaths, according to CBS News, with opioids at the head of this epidemic.

The number of people newly addicted to opioids, and who subsequently overdose, rises each year. The NIDA reports that “the number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers has soared in the United States, more than quadrupling since 1999.”

But the risk of abusing prescription opioids is more than just a risk of overdose. Growing evidence shows that abusing opioid pain relievers contributes to later abuse of heroin. In fact, the ASAM reports that four out of five people new to abusing heroin first began abusing prescription opioids. Why?

Heroin And Opioid Addiction_Two MillionIn short, heroin is much less expensive and easier to obtain than prescriptions. If you first began abusing a medication that you received for pain and become addicted to it, the prescription will eventually run out. If you can’t obtain anymore but have already become dependent on it, cravings and other uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms may leave you desperate to replace the opioid effects.

Addiction to heroin and opioids may drive you to do things that perhaps you normally wouldn’t do. For example, some people who suffer from opioid addiction may “doctor shop” or quickly try to obtain prescriptions from several different doctors, hoping that at least one will give a prescription before catching on.

The effects of opioids include relaxation and clouded mental functioning, meaning your ability to make decisions rationally will be impaired. This can lead to a number of increased risks, such as engaging in dangerous activities like driving while on these drugs, or having sex. Each of these activities can result in a number of consequences, like injury, accidents, or contraction of infections or sexually transmitted diseases.

If all of these risks to health and safety weren’t enough, there is no aspect of your life left untouched by addiction to opioids or heroin. Addiction can take over your life, and as it does, it’s likely those around your—friends, family, employers—won’t understand. As a result, your relationships, work performance, attendance, responsibilities, and finances may suffer.

Commonly Abused Opioids In The U.S.

The number of opioids prescribed in the United States has heavily grown in the past few decades. The NIDA reports that prescriptions for opioids, “have escalated from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, with the United States their biggest consumer globally…”

With increased prescriptions has come increased numbers of abuse and addiction, and following that, overdose. The following are some of the most commonly abused prescription opioids in the United States.


  • Responsible for 591,000 substance use disorders in 2015 (up from 467,000 in 2014)
  • Cheap and easy to obtain, it’s the drug many opioid-addicted people turn to when the prescriptions run out
  • The majority of people new to heroin abuse first abused prescription pain relievers


  • Typically prescribed for more severe pain
  • Available in oral (pill) form or by injection
  • Signs of abuse include signs of withdrawal like nausea, chills, and restlessness, and inability to stop taking the drug


  • Use of Oxycodone can cause serious breathing problems, according to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine. Abuse of it, such as changing the administration of the drug, enhances these side effects
  • Available as an oral solution or extended-release tablets. The extended-release tablets tend to be abused by crushing and snorting them, and this can force faster effects, increasing the risk of overdose


  • Prescribed to people who will need long-term, severe pain relief
  • Has a high potential for abuse, and the U.S. National Library Of Medicine warns to advise prescribing physicians of any alcohol history due to the risk of abusing the two together
  • Available as extended-release capsule or tablet, abuse of which involves crushing and snorting, or dissolving in water and injecting


  • Prescribed to treat mild to severe pain, and also to help relieve severe coughing
  • For coughing, works by decreasing the activity in the brain that causes coughing
  • Comes in tablet, capsule, and solution forms
  • Abuse of codeine can result in serious breathing problems and other side effects, especially when abusing with other drugs such as alcohol, which is common


  • According to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine, “this medication should not be used to treat pain other than chronic cancer pain”
  • Despite being prescribed only for people who suffer round-the-clock pain, it can still become addicting
  • Typical symptoms of abuse include lethargy, euphoria, and drowsiness


  • Typically prescribed to treat opioid addiction
  • Despite being only a partial agonist opioid and being used for help with managing withdrawal symptoms, the drug is still a target of abuse
  • When properly administered, and monitored, can help addicted individuals safely taper off opioid use


  • Used in the treatment of pain. Extended-release typically used for people who will experience long-term, daily pain
  • Can cause serious breathing problems, especially when forcing a faster effect of the extended-release form of the drug
  • So potent, drug recommendations advise not to let the drug touch any part of your skin or clothes


  • Also used in the treatment of opioid dependence symptoms, but may still cause addiction
  • Abuse of it is dangerous, as it is meant for careful, monitored administration
  • Changing the dose can mean heightened adverse side effects, like breathing troubles

Signs Of Opioid Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms of prescription opioids are similar to those of heroin, but also may include the following:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Increased tearing
  • Muscle aches
  • Pupil dilation
  • A runny nose
  • Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Yawning

According to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine, these symptoms are uncomfortable but rarely life-threatening. It is an overdose that can be life-threatening, and withdrawal contributes to continued abuse, which can lead to overdose.

Opioid Detoxification

For those suffering from opioid withdrawal, whether prescription opioids or heroin, detoxification may be necessary. What is this process?

Detoxification allows your body to flush out the toxins gained from prolonged abuse. Perhaps you can imagine that this is a difficult process, as people who require detoxification tend to have been taking the opioid drugs for an extended period of time. In other words, they have formed a dependence.

Heroin And Opioid Addiction_Not AlIn getting rid of these substances from your system, your body will protest, which is why you feel the withdrawal symptoms. That’s why detoxification should always be monitored—to ensure all your vital functions remain normal, withdrawal symptoms are at safe, manageable levels, and pain is at a manageable level.

During this process, medication may help ease these symptoms, relieve pain, and help you safely taper off the use of the medication until you no longer experience withdrawal symptoms.

In inpatient rehab centers, proper detoxification is always attended by certified, professional medical staff. This quality of care can make a vast difference in the effectiveness of your detox session.

You want your detoxification to be effective because after you complete this step (if you need it), your treatment and healing journey can begin.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

In light of all the dark facts surrounding opioid and heroin addiction, you may be wondering what treatment regimen could possibly be effective. The best way to help you overcome heroin or opioid addiction is with an integrated approach, especially one that involves medication-assisted treatment.

So, how can you guarantee you won’t develop a further addiction when taking medication for opioid withdrawal? Some drugs do foster addiction when abused, it’s true. Yet in an inpatient environment, such as the ones we can connect you with at Vertava Health, this is far less likely. Why?

As mentioned above, proper detoxification requires monitoring of your health status and administration of medication. This means that your medication use will be closely monitored during your treatment session.

With buprenorphine (Suboxone), you may slowly taper off the use of the drug as needed to ensure you get the relief you need from withdrawal symptoms, but don’t feel the urgent need to go back to opioid abuse.

Medication-assisted treatment involves not just adequate detoxification and medication, but also a multidisciplinary approach. This means a number of treatment modalities may be used to create a program that addresses all of your treatment needs.

Addiction to heroin and opioids affects your brain, which affects your moods, behaviors, and emotions. With time, addiction takes a toll on your health and many other aspects of your life. To turn your life around, you first have to focus on your well-being.

That means you may need behavioral therapy, counseling, a nutrition and/or exercise regimen, daily activities for fulfillment, mental health services, dual diagnosis treatment, and an environment removed from drug abuse.

All of these effective treatment components and more are available at our rehab centers, and all can help you not only overcome heroin and opioid addiction but learn to live a life free from addiction long-term.

Find Fulfillment: End Heroin And Opioid Addiction Today

So many people every year are claimed by the opioid epidemic. Yet you can find hope, healing, and fulfillment—you don’t have to become the next victim of opioid addiction.

If you’re ready to seek treatment, change your behavior, reroute your thought processes, and heal, contact us today. Call Vertava Health at 888-966-8973 to speak with a treatment specialist now.