China white, Dope, Dragon, Junk. Whatever name is used, this deadly drug has been growing more common in the St. Louis area.
Nicole Browning, counselor at the National council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, said via email, “Since 2007, opioid deaths in the St. Louis area have more than tripled.”
Heroin, an illegal opioid, can be snorted, smoked and injected. Heroin can be white or brown powder, and sometimes comes in the form of a black substance. This highly addictive drug is extremely dangerous.
Short term effects of heroin include dryness, itching, constipation, vomiting and drowsiness After the high of heroin wears off, the body’s functions start to slow down, causing the heart to slow down and breathing to become more and more spread out. After heroin wears off, the users then go through an extreme withdrawal.
About heroin withdrawal, Browning said, “It is like the flu times 100: fever, chills, shaking, diarrhea, upset stomach, feel like they are on fire. So they want to use more to feel better.”
Even after one use of heroin, users can get addicted. An addiction to heroin can lead to brain damage. When heroin is repeatedly used, the brain will stop producing dopamine, a chemical that is heavily responsible for mood, emotions, movement and pleasure. When the brain stops producing dopamine, users will not feel their normal self again.
Heroin can cause other severe effects, such as breathing issues, depression, coma and death.
Heroin users have some common symptoms.
Anne Gibbs, social worker, said via email, “The key word here is change. Anyone who has demonstrated change in their friends, mood, behavior, eating/sleeping habits, hygiene, weight etc. might be someone who is misusing substances.”
Browning had a few more ways to tell if someone is using heroin,
“Physical signs include paraphernalia and the body: baggies, pill caps, burnt foil; sleepy, tiny pupils, nodding, runny nose, slurred speech, constipation and others.”
Even with the negative effects of heroin, heroin has still taken lives of many people, including high school students.
Students, who are looking for a cheaper alternatives to opioid prescription drugs, which treat severe pain, are turning to heroin, which they have easy access to and can get for cheap. Four out of five heroin users first started out with using prescription drugs according to Narconon.Org.
Gibbs said, “To many people, prescription drugs seem safer, but heroin and prescription pain medications are all considered opioids and derived from the poppy plant.”
Opioid pain medications can often be taken too long or frequently, causing an opioid use disorder.
About her perspective on heroin, Lidia Sherman, sophomore, said, “When someone gets addicted to heroin or anything, the people that are close to that person, lose them. The person addicted is different, and they will never be the same again. It takes over their life, yes it’s hard on them, but it’s also hard on their family. I think they forget that, that their actions of taking it effect others.”
About how to lower heroin usage, Browning said, “Research shows prevention works. Unfortunately, it won’t solve the current epidemic soon. It does take time.”
Students who are struggling with heroin use disorder can find help through several programs. There are about 22 drug rehab programs in the Saint Louis area. Students can tell a teacher, parent or trusted adult about their substance use disorder.
Gibbs said, “We are genuinely concerned about all our students and want to ensure they receive the help they need.”
Browning also said, “Anyone is at risk for heroin use. It cuts all socioeconomic boundaries: race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, economic class, etc. Heroin is everywhere.”
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