What Are the Harmful Effects of a Heroin Overdose?

Medically Reviewed

Heroin has been long considered one of the most dangerous drugs on the planet. We are living in a time where opioid overdoses have become all too common. You likely may know someone personally or indirectly who is struggling from heroin addiction. In a culture where overdose is all too common, we may wonder what the harmful side effects of a heroin overdose may be. Every day in the United States, 130 people die from overdoses because of opioids. The abuse of opioids, which include heroin, has become a national crisis affecting public health.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mentions that the total economic burden on our country is an estimated $78.5 billion each year. It includes costs of lost productivity, healthcare, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. Opioid abuse has exploded in the past 15 years. The crisis was caused mostly in part by the pharmaceutical companies in the 1990s.

Pharmaceutical representatives assured doctors that their product was not addictive in the late 90s, which led to doctors prescribing them at much higher rates. It led to the widespread diversion and misuse of the medication. Doctors started to witness the effects their overprescribing caused, and it led to much stricter regulations to be put in place. Unfortunately, the damage had been done — most people who were addicted moved to the cheaper and more accessible drug, heroin.

Unfortunately, by 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died at the hands of opioid overdoses. In the same year, an estimated 1.7 million people in the U.S. were struggling with substance use disorders relating to opioids. While some may be lucky and survive a heroin overdose, there can still be long-term damage as a result. Let’s take a more in-depth look at heroin use and where it comes from.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive drug processed from morphine. It comes from a pod in the naturally occurring poppy plant and is sold as a white or brown powder. The drug originates in South America and Southeast Asia. It is commonly injected, snorted, or sniffed. Heroin goes into the brain and binds to opioid receptors that are involved with feelings of pleasure and pain. It also controls heart rate, breathing, and sleeping.

Short-Term Effects of Heroin

Those who use heroin report feeling a rush, or a surge of euphoria or pleasure. There are other common side effects that include:

  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Severe itching
  • Heavy feeling in your arms or legs
  • Cloudy mental functioning
  • Nodding, which refers to a state of being conscious or unconscious

Long-Term Effects of Heroin

Those who use heroin over an extended period are prone to developing severe side effects. Some of these include:

  • Collapsed veins for those who inject the substance
  • Insomnia
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose of those who sniff or snort it
  • Constipation or stomach cramping
  • Abscesses (swollen tissue that fills with puss)
  • Sexual dysfunction in men
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women
  • Depression or antisocial personality disorder

Heroin contains additives that include powdered milk, sugar, or starch, and these can clog blood vessels that lead to permanent damage. In addition to these dangers, sharing needles that increase the risk of contracting deadly diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis.

Harmful Effects of a Heroin Overdose

The number of drug overdose deaths increased 137 percent, and there has been a 200 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths due to medication and heroin abuse. Nonfatal heroin overdoses are more common than fatal overdoses, and some groups who struggle with addiction to heroin are at a much higher risk of suffering from an overdose.

Those who have reduced their tolerance to heroin through detox or reduced

dose place themselves at an increased risk of overdose. Those who inject the drug also are more likely to die this way. While many people who struggle with heroin addiction are single, overdoses often occur in front of people. If you witness an overdose, you must immediately call 911 and get emergency medical help. You might save a life.

There are harmful effects for someone who survives a heroin overdose and does not get help in time. The most common problem is when someone stops breathing. When the brain does not receive oxygen, it can start to die or lose vital functions. Those who survive might suffer from permanent memory loss, lack of motor functions, and not have coordination. In some cases, a person may turn into a vegetable and never live a healthy life again.

While death is feared when an overdose occurs, people should also fear the consequences if they live. Consider that you might end up wheelchair-bound for the rest of your life. If this is something you fear, it might be time to get help for your heroin use disorder.

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