6-12 November 2015 #782

Chasing the dragon

Media has glamourised heroin addiction somewhat, but the true effects of heroin are very different in real life.
Anjana Rajbhandary

For a long time, Kathmandu was known as a drug paradise, but mainly for ‘soft’ narcotics like marijuana. Lately, however, raw and processed opium from India have become available – especially after Indian growers moved into remote lawless parts of Nepal.

Heroin is a semi-synthetic form of morphine, a naturally occurring substance that is extracted from certain types of poppy plants. Heroin is also derived from opium, which is the sap of a poppy plant. The name opium comes from the Greek word 'opos' meaning ‘sap’. Media has glamourised heroin addiction somewhat, but the true effects of heroin are very different in real life.

The chemical structure of heroin allows for rapid travel to the brain which creates a mild euphoria, most commonly described as feeling ‘high’ or a ‘rush’. Heroin is considered to be the most addictive recreational substance because cravings are extremely persistent and treatment is often long and difficult, but not impossible.

Typical treatment consists of a detox period, whereby patients undergo intense withdrawals while receiving medication and counseling in an attempt to eliminate short-term relapse. However, the rate of relapse is high and multiple cycles of rehabilitation may be required.

A transitional period in a safe and sober environment will help the patient treat heroin addiction with continued success as it shields the patient from triggers, such as individuals that contributed to the heroin addiction at the onset. An inpatient treatment for heroin addiction is one of the safest and most guaranteed roads to full recovery.

In a majority of cases, people initially experiment with heroin for either recreational or medical purposes as a means of achieving a temporary feeling of euphoria. The first stages of heroin addiction cause the user to continuously crave or chase their initial ‘high’.

Individuals that have undergone traumatic experience are more susceptible to using substances such as heroin than those who have not. It is also more likely for someone with a mental health illness to use substances to ‘self-medicate’ or cope with their current situation. Some common causes of heroin addiction are the environment, genetics, suppressed physical pain, escape from reality or an addiction acquired from birth.

Heroin use gives the individual a ‘downer’ effect while providing temporary relaxation and euphoria. Similar to other opiates, heroin use inhibits the brain’s ability to feel pain. Heroin users may be able to hide the use for a short period of time, but if you suspect a family member or a friend is using heroin, some potential signs and symptoms to look out for are track marks (the areas on the skin and blood vessels damaged by a needle) possession of paraphernalia, sudden change in behaviour or levels of motivation, sudden weight loss as well as an increase in time spent sleeping.

Heroin is a dangerous and addictive drug that affects the individual, including their loved ones. As the user increases their dosage, a result of increased tolerance, more physical symptoms become increasingly visible. Heroin may affect various aspects of an individual’s life: physical, psychological/mental and family/relationships. Its use leads to strained relationships and also ends many of them.

There are effective and successful treatments available for heroin addiction, including medications (methadone, buprenorphine) and behavioral therapy (cognitive-behavioral therapy). These methods help repair and restore brain function and behaviour to a degree that allows patients to lead normal lives, with a decreased chance of relapse. But the most effective approach consists of using a combination of both medications coupled with behavioral therapy under monitoring and supervision of a qualified medical professional.

Read also:

New Opium Epicenter, Damodar Bhandari

The silent scream, Anjana Rajbhandary

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