The sudden death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from an alleged overdose of heroin is truly sad. Remarks posted on the Internet range from praise and sadness at the loss of a great actor and friend to harsh condemnation of “another Hollywood junkie” and a “godless drug user” that threw away a life of privilege.
Yes, Hoffman made a bad decision when he began using drugs, but no one plans to become an addict. Immaturity and a sense of being invincible are trademarks of teens and young adults. Reality is much different. Somewhere along life’s journey, heroin addiction can and does happen to millions of people around the world. Drug abuse and addiction strangles the heart and soul of a person. Users aren’t always poor, uneducated, immoral or bad people. Addicts can also be smart, wealthy, good-hearted people; your neighbor, minister, family member, banker and yes, your child.
The drug culture is changing. Marijuana use among teens is at its highest in 30 years, In 2011, a national study showed that one in eight 8th graders, one in four 10th graders, and one in three 12th graders have used marijuana in the past year. Drug use is becoming more acceptable. While not all marijuana users will graduate to heroin or other drugs, many addicts began their drug abuse with marijuana.
Marijuana isn’t the only drug that kids are finding attractive. New, nationally projectable survey results released by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and MetLife Foundation confirmed that one in four teens has misused or abused a prescription (Rx) drug at least once in their lifetime – a 33 percent increase over the past five years.
The increase in prescription drug abuse is thought to be fueling a rise in heroin addiction, NBC News reports. A growing number of young people who start abusing expensive prescription drugs are switching to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to buy.
Prescription pain pills cost $20 to $60, while heroin costs $3 to $10 a bag. Many young people who use heroin start off snorting the drug, and within weeks, most start shooting up, according to the news report. A national crack down on prescription drugs like Vicodin, Oxycotin and Fentanyl – a powerful painkiller for cancer patients - has made the switch to heroin, as an affordable alternative, more rampant.
Nearly half of young people who inject heroin surveyed in three recent studies reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin.
The thing about heroin is that it is highly addictive. It doesn’t play favorites. Anyone from any socioeconomic group and age bracket can easily become addicted with a very short span of repeated use.
Heroin is an opioid that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant.
It can be injected, inhaled by snorting or sniffing or smoked. Once it’s in the body, it enters the brain where it is converted back into morphine - which binds to opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many areas of the brain (and body) and are especially involved in the perception of pain and reward.
Opioid receptors are also located in the brain stem, which controls automatic processes critical for life, such as blood pressure, arousal, and respiration. Heroin overdoses frequently involve a suppression of breathing, which can be fatal if not addressed. Most fatal overdoses occur when someone is using alone.
In a short amount of time, a tolerance to the drug builds up so that it takes more heroin to get the same “euphotic” results. Even a short break in usage can cause an overdose if the user ingests the same amount of heroin they were using before the break.
Recent surveys of teens and college age young adults reveal that this age group doesn’t believe that occasional use of heroin is dangerous. That should be a large red flag to parents of teens and soon to be or enrolled college students.
Hoffman previously stated that his long battle with drugs began during his college days. “It was all that [drugs and alcohol], yeah, it was anything I could get my hands on… I liked it all,” he said. That attitude is still rampant among teens and college students today.
At 22 years old, Hoffman entered rehab and stayed sober for 23 years. Last May he entered rehab again for a 10-day detox program. On Sunday, he died of an apparent overdose of heroin. He was only 46 years old.
Heroin use among the young isn’t a new thing, but it’s increasing annually. Heroin isn’t the only drug epidemic that has a hold on many kids. Stimulates are very popular in high school and college, especially around exam time.
How can you tell if someone is using heroin? Heroin is usually smoked, snorted or injected. You may find the remnants of use in the bedroom, closet or bathroom. Heroin is a powdery or crumbly substance. The color is typically off white to dark brown. Black tar heroin is nearly black and is sticky instead of powdery. Syringes or small glass or metal pipes are used when someone is injecting. Spoons and lighters are used to cook the drug before injection and something like a belt, thin rubber hose or tie is often wrapped around the arm, hand or leg to make a vein stand out.
Users will usually get a dry mouth and his or her skin will flush. Small punctures in the skin appear (tracks or needle marks) in the arms, hands, legs and even feet. Heroin can cause someone to nod off in mid-sentence. Breathing is slowed. A user’s thinking is typically impaired. They will tend to lose some memory. Self-control and good decision-making suffers. Some users itch a lot, are nauseated and vomit. Skin infections and constipation are common. Heroin users tend to become isolated except when they need to get more drugs. Personality changes occur and mood swings are typical.
So, make sure your child understands the danger of stimulates or opioid abuse, whether they are prescriptions drugs, morphine, cocaine, Ritalin, Adderall or heroin long before he or she is ready to leave home. Its availability and temptation is much more widespread than you think.