Introduction: Heroin is an opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.” The effects heroin can have on the body can not be overemphasized, so in this article we are going to highlight some before discussing the best way to detox off heroin.
How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?
When it enters the brain, heroin is converted back into morphine, which binds to molecules on cells known as opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many areas of the brain (and in the body), especially those involved in the perception of pain and in reward. Opioid receptors are also located in the brain stem, which controls automatic processes critical for life, such as blood pressure, arousal, and respiration.
Looking at the above effect that heroin use can have on the brain, hence the need to find the best way to detox off heroin from the system.
What Are the Other Health Effects of Heroin?
Heroin abuse is associated with a number of serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV (see box, “Injection Drug Use and HIV and HCV Infection”). Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, constipation and gastrointestinal cramping, and liver or kidney disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the user as well as from heroin’s effects on breathing.
The Best way to Detox off Heroin
Heroin is a short-acting opioid, meaning that it takes effect rapidly but also leaves the bloodstream quickly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that heroin withdrawal symptoms start within 6-12 hours of the last dose, peak in 2-3 days, and last 5-10 days in total.
Detox is the method of removing heroin from the body. Since withdrawal can peak after a few days of the last dose, detox in a substance abuse treatment center that offers medical detox may be the most comfortable way to purge the drug from the body and avoid relapse.
Medical detox starts before heroin completely leaves the system and usually takes between 5 and 7 days. For someone who is more heavily dependent on heroin, detox may last a little longer, up to 10 days. Medical detox may use medications and therapy to help the body and brain recover from heroin’s effects. Blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and temperature levels are all monitored to help keep individuals safe and secure throughout the entire process.
Treating Heroin Addiction
A range of treatments including behavioral therapies and medications are effective at helping patients stop using heroin and return to stable and productive lives.
Medications include buprenorphine and methadone, both of which work by binding to the same cell receptors as heroin but more weakly, helping a person wean off the drug and reduce craving; and naltrexone, which blocks opioid receptors and prevents the drug from having an effect (patients sometimes have trouble complying with naltrexone treatment, but a new long-acting version given by injection in a doctor’s office may increase this treatment’s efficacy). Another drug called naloxone is sometimes used as an emergency treatment to counteract the effects of heroin overdose.
To obtain more information on heroin the best way to detox off heroin and treatment, see NIDA’s handbook, titled “Principle of Drug Addiction Treatment”