Why Is a Heroin Overdose So Dangerous?

For those who are not as familiar with heroin, also known as skunk, black tar, or smack, it is a street-level opioid that is just as addictive as OxyContin, oxycodone, and many other prescription-based opioids. Heroin, which many people inject, snort, or smoke, is derived from morphine. To further illustrate the relationship between heroin and morphine, we must first understand that morphine is also an opioid. And it is made using seeds extracted from the opium poppy plant, which grows primarily in Western Asia and Southeastern Europe. The poppy seeds from the opium poppy plant contain multiple opioid compounds, some of which include codeine and morphine. The process of extracting morphine from the poppy seeds of an opium poppy plant via diluted acid is what results in the creation of diacetylmorphine, a chemical better known as heroin. To say that heroin addiction is a problem in America would be a gross understatement. For context, current data shows that nearly 500,000 Americans over the age of 12 admit to using heroin regularly.

Additional Heroin Statistics

When it comes to heroin use and abuse in America, it is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. To contextualize this statement, we need only take a look at a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study noted that some 880,000 people admitted to occasionally using heroin in 2017. Adding to that, in the same year, an estimated 81,000 reported trying the drug for the first time. And this is especially troubling when you consider that over 25 percent of individuals who use this street-level opioid, either routinely or on occasion, eventually go onto develop an addiction. Lastly, in 2017, there were over 15,000 heroin-related overdose deaths in the United States.

What Makes Heroin So Addictive?

To better understand why nearly half a million Americans use heroin regularly and why so many also try it for the first time, it helps to know a little more about how the drug impacts the brain. While heroin can be injected, snorted, or smoked, most individuals choose to inject it since doing so provides a faster and more intense euphoric high. And this high is a byproduct of the drug binding to specific opioid receptors in the brain known as mu-opioid receptors (MORs), which then interact with neurotransmitters throughout the body, especially dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter in the brain associated with feelings of reward. But since this rush of dopamine eventually wears off, many people keep taking the drug to keep what they perceive as \”good feelings\” going for as long as possible. And most of them develop an addiction as a result of doing so.

Why Is a Heroin Overdose So Dangerous?

Something to note regarding heroin is that it is a drug that impacts not only the brain but also the body. And this explains why the euphoria that many feel when using or abusing heroin also triggers the following ill-effects:

  • Xerostomia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Vacillating between being conscious and semiconscious

Many individuals will continue to abuse heroin to not only overcome these ill-effects but also to keep enjoying the euphoric high that comes with doing so. However, the more they continue to use the drug, the more addicted they become to it, which can be quite dangerous. Studies show that heroin, much like other opioids, can slow down many critical processes in the body, including breathing. When the body does not receive enough oxygen, it can put individuals at risk of falling into a coma, suffering permanent brain damage, or even death. In fact, breathing problems represent the leading cause of nearly all heroin-related overdose deaths in America.

Additional Factors That Make Overdosing on Heroin Dangerous

Along with causing a dangerous slow down in breathing, heroin often contains additives that can cause permanent damage to the arteries. If this happens, it can impede the flow of blood to the heart, which can, in turn, result in cardiovascular problems. These same additives, some of which include powdered milk, sugar, and starch, can damage the kidneys, lungs, and liver as well. Lastly, because heroin use causes individuals to vacillate between being conscious and semiconscious, it can put them at greater risk of sustaining a head injury or being involved in a traffic accident. It is also worth noting that most people quickly develop a tolerance to heroin, which leads to having to take more of the drug to achieve the same high. In doing so, however, they further increase their chances of experiencing many of the ill-effects detailed in this article.

Bottom Line

In summary, there is a plurality of things that make overdosing on heroin dangerous. Unfortunately, most people don\’t realize that this is the case as they go about abusing this powerful street-level opioid. And this, in part, explains why thousands of people die from a heroin-related overdose each year. If you\’re ready to end your relationship with heroin or any other opioid for that matter, consider scheduling a consultation with one of our addiction experts today at 833-846-5669.

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