How to know if your loved one is abusing Heroin or Opiates

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Heroin addiction has finally gained attention by the main stream media with the recent deaths of famous stars such as Cory Monteith and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  However, growing this problem is, it is not new as I know living for almost ten years with a close family member addicted to shooting dope.  Like many my brother didn’t start by injecting heroin into his veins it started innocently enough by popping pills and then snorting them.  His pill of choice was OxyContin a powerful opiate prescribed for pain, but easily obtained and bought on the streets.

Heroin was once thought of as a drug used by hard core addicts.  Homeless junkies on the street, not the college bound or educated kid from the suburbs from privileged backgrounds.  Times have changed, and I can honestly say in my personal and professional experience that Heroin is a drug used widely by all ages and social classes.  It is easily found in local high schools, colleges, and all areas of this country.

For many the addiction to opiates starts innocently as one takes pain pills such as Hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin, or Lortab), Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), Fentanyl, or Morphine as prescribed by a doctor.  These powerful pain pills are often prescribed for Cancer patients, individuals with Chronic Pain, and after surgery or injuries.  The problem often begins when someone who is genetically predisposed to addiction takes these pills or the individual realizes they like how these drugs feel, more so than just the expected pain relief.  Dependence can develop when an individual takes these drugs for more than two weeks or begins to take over the prescribed dose, just to feel a little better.   Overtime tolerance builds and they need more and more of their pills.  At this time they may doctor shop or begin other drug seeking behaviors such as buying pills off the street, which can be expensive when you are feeding a drug habit.  For some this may lead to trying Heroin, a drug they never intended in their life to try, hence the crossover from pills to Heroin has begun.

While I am happy that the news and local politicians are finally talking about this epidemic it is clearly not going away anytime soon.  The fact is this is a drug that kills and an addiction that wreaks havoc on families.  Believe me I know of the devastation that this drug does to family members.

A few facts about Heroin and opiates:  Heroin dependence has doubled in the last decade.  Texas border seizures of the drug are up 232%.  Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths in this country, largely due to opiates.  Over 100 people die every day from drug overdoses.  Opiate overdoes have quadrupled since 1999.    Those who use prescription opiate drugs are 19 times more likely to try Heroin.  Heroin is cheaper and more potent than ever. This is a major problem.

If you know or suspect your loved one is abusing opiates or Heroin you must take action.   You may need to do an intervention.   Opiate addicts are often resistant to seek help on their own.  They will continue to chase their high and avoid the very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms at any cost.  Including stealing, pawning, lying, covering up, and avoiding confrontation despite negative consequences.  However, there is hope getting your loved one into treatment and following a long term solid aftercare recovery plan has proven for many Heroin addicts to be the answer.

How do you know your loved one is using Heroin or Opiates?  You may suspect something is wrong or know that drug use is present but are unsure that it is Heroin or prescription opiates.  Despite Heroin/opiates being such a powerful substances it can be difficult to tell if you are unfamiliar with what to look for.  Addicts are very good at hiding their addiction and depending on the time frame of their last use behaviors can vary. Here are some of the signs to look for:

-Small pin point pupils that remain constant despite changes in light.  You can watch other people’s pupils in the room change, but the opiate user’s pupils will remain small.  See photo of constricted pupils above.

-At times the individual may seem hyper focused, talkative, motivated, and energized. 

-Other times the individual may appear sleepy, barely able to hold their eyes open, they may pass out or fall asleep sitting up or during a conversation.  Nodding off.

-Excessive sweating, itching or scratching, may have flushed skin.

-Mood swings and irritability.  At times they may be irrational.  They may be antsy.  Angry at times and overly happy at others.

-Balance and coordination may be affected. 

-Sleeping and eating patterns may be interrupted.

-Frequent long visits to the bathroom when they are using.

-Needle marks, track marks on arms.  Bruising around injection site.  May wear long sleeves to cover up.  These marks often don’t happen at first and only to those regular users who are injecting. 

-Flu like symptoms or reporting they are sick when they are going through with withdrawal or trying as they often do to detox themselves.

-You may find spoons, lighters, needles, bloody tissues or cotton balls, or tissues with black residue in their rooms or belongings.  You may find baggies filled with pills or straws used for snorting. 

-Excessive spending of money or cash withdrawals from debit or credit cards.  Missing items that may be pawned. 

-The once honest and reliable individual may become unreliable missing commitments and not following through with things.  

If you believe your loved one is abusing opiates it is important to seek professional help.  While, the withdrawal from opiates is not fatal it is very uncomfortable and should be medically monitored.  Residential treatment in order to remove them from their drug using environment, and to give them necessary tools to maintain a life of recovery is highly recommended.  There is hope for opiate addicts and their families. Recovery is possible.  I have seen it happen.  Thankfully, my brother is one of those who have overcome opiate addiction.


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