The history of heroin’s use in America traces back to the opium dens of the 1800s. The opium poppy has been cultivated for more than five thousand years for a variety of medicinal uses. From opium, morphine was derived, a naturally occurring opiate extracted from the seedpod of certain varieties of poppy plants. Named after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams, for its euphoric side effects, morphine was an effective painkiller and considered a wonder drug. Its addictive properties became alarmingly clear with the American Civil War when tens of thousands of soldiers being treated for war casualties became addicted.
Heroin was first synthesized from morphine in 1874. For 12 years Bayer, the German pharmaceutical company, marketed it under the trademark name Heroin as a cough suppressant and as a non-addictive morphine substitute, until it was discovered that it rapidly metabolizes into morphine.
The number of Americans using heroin has increased 75% in the past 5 years, and in that same time, heroin-related seizures have increased 50%.
The insidiousness of heroin lies in the fact that not only does it create an intense rush that the user longs for even thereafter, but it alters the brain’s chemistry, training the body to crave it. Heroin addiction withdrawal symptoms are intense and can include: cold sweats, depression and anxiety, loss of appetite, unstable moods, muscle cramping, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.
For any addict, admitting there is a problem and seeking help are sometimes the most difficult first steps. If someone you love is addicted to heroin, it’s essential to take that brave step of confronting them about it. However, realize that drug addiction is stigmatized to such a degree that any anger or accusation element introduced into this conversation will be counter-productive. It’s important to come from a place of care and loving support, with an ongoing reassurance that you are there for the person.
The challenges can be significant even when the situation is approached with the best intentions and utmost care. There is professional help available. Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) is a resource that teaches family and friends effective strategies for helping their loved one to change and for feeling better themselves. CRAFT works to affect the loved one’s behavior by changing the way the family interacts with him or her. According to their website, it is designed to accomplish three goals:
- When a loved one is abusing substances and refusing to get help, CRAFT helps families move their loved one toward treatment.
- CRAFT helps reduce the loved one’s alcohol and drug use, whether or not the loved one has engaged in treatment yet.
- CRAFT improves the lives of concerned family and friends.
Hope for the Future
While the facts and figures relating to addiction can be horrifying, there is hope. The plus side of those daunting numbers is that a great deal of research, study, time and effort has gone into finding solutions for heroin treatment. People are different, and addicts differ greatly in their underlying causes for addiction, which means there is no one-shot treatment that will be effective for everybody. Many approaches are available, many options for seeking a full recovery. One such option is Choices Recovery Program, founded by Per Wickstrom, himself a rehabilitated addict. Mr. Wickstrom believes that no matter what mistakes you’ve made in the past and no matter what your age is, you can overcome anything, be successful and lead a healthy life. Mr. Wickstrom was able to do this himself after he had suffered from addiction for over 22 years.