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The Dangers of Heroin Abuse

Heroin, the narcotic derivative of the opium poppy plant, poses a grave threat to our society. It is a highly addictive drug, and its presence and use is a serious problem in America. Heroin addiction causes crime as its result as well as danger to users, families, and others. As evidenced by crime and health reports, heroin is a clear and present danger to society due to its devastating health consequences, increasing abuse, and continually expanded availability. The by-product of this opiate drug is derived naturally and extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. It usually appears as a white or dark brown powder. Pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste. Most heroin is distributed in powder form and may vary in color because of impurities left from the manufacturing process or the presence of additives. It is packaged for distribution in small, postage-stamp-sized plastic bags.

They are sold individually for 10 dollars or 180 dollars for a “bundle” of 20. Street names include smack, H, junk, horse, and tar. Most users dissolve it in water and then use a needle to inject it directly into a vein. The effect of the powerful narcotic properties of heroin appears soon after a single dose and disappears in a few hours. After injecting heroin, the user reports feeling a surge of euphoria or “rush” accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin and heavy extremities. Following this initial euphoria, the user goes “on the nod”, an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Mental functioning becomes clouded due to its effects on the central nervous system. Resulting in long-term effects of heroin appear after repeated use. Chronic users develop collapsed veins, abscesses, bacterial infections, heart complications, including various types of blood and airborne infectious diseases.

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It follows that many heroin addicts are HIV positive or have AIDS. In addition, heroin may have additives that do not readily dissolve and result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in these vital organs. Heroin is very addictive. Consider as an illustration that with regular use, tolerance develops. This means the abuser must use more, to achieve the same intensity or effect. As higher doses are used over time, physical dependence and addiction develop. With physical dependence, the body adapts to the presence of the drug, and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced or stopped. The ramifications of heroin withdrawal are an ugly and dangerous experience. Watery eyes, runny nose, no appetite, tremors, panic, chills, sweating, vomiting, and muscle cramps.

Addicts cannot sleep, and their body temperatures and blood pressure rise. By that time, most of them have alienated themselves from everyone, so they are alone. People who are addicted to heroin also face serious problems even when they try to quit using. In the following manner, Jose Gonzalez a lifetime user explains, “Kicking the habit” or effort to stop. In regular abusers, consequences occur as early as a few hours after the last dose, it produces drug craving, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, cold flashes, and vomiting. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. “Cold turkey” is complete and instantaneous cessation. This method when done by less frequent users, often only increases their habit. When attempted by heavily dependent users, who are in poor health, it is occasionally fatal.

Available are a broad range of treatment options for addiction, including medications and behavioral therapies. Science has taught that when medication treatment is integrated with other supportive services, patients are better able to stop addiction and return to more stable and productive lives. (NIH) Methadone, Laam, and Naltrexone are all synthetic opiate medications that block the effects of heroin for about 24 hours and have a proven record of success when prescribed at a high enough dosage level for people who are addicted. Studies in these treatments show some advancements but it is a major cost to taxpayers inexpensive drug costs and therapies. It is also not widely known that reforming addicts become severely dependant on these replacement narcotics. (Gonzalez)

As a consequence of heroin’s illegality and expensiveness, dealers often “cut” it with similar-looking powders, like baking soda, baby laxative, or even laundry detergent. Users never know how pure their drug is, so every dose is different. This means that a major overdose could happen at any time…even one use could result in a coma or death. The resulting signs of heroin overdose include slow and shallow breathing, clammy skin, convulsions, coma, and possible death. The most recent report of the Drug Abuse Warning Network, which tracks drug abuse deaths and emergency room episodes reported that deaths were increasing notably and the highest purity levels were found in:

  • Philadelphia (71.0 percent)
  • New York (63.6 percent)
  • Boston (61.4 percent)
  • Newark (60.7 percent)
  • Atlanta (57.8 percent)
  • San Diego (57.6 percent)

Presently, the purity of street heroin usually ranges from 1 percent to 10 percent but recently, the purity, especially that from South America, has skyrocketed to rates as high as 98 percent. Injecting is on an upward trend among younger users. Snorting also seems to be increasing and is often the starting route for new users. The shift from injecting to snorting and smoking is due to increased purity and the misconception that these forms of use will not lead to addiction. Overall, the typical heroin user consumes more heroin than just a decade ago and it’s estimated that nearly 80 percent of them are under the age of 26. The fact that high-purity heroin can be effectively smoked and snorted may be attracting new users to the drug. Users who snort or smoke avoid the social stigma of injection and the fear of acquiring syringe-borne diseases. (National Household Survey)

Hence, the rates of heroin use among teenagers rose significantly in eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades during the 1990s, and additionally, regular users of heroin started using the drug at an earlier age. Heroin is readily obtainable in all major U.S. metropolitan areas, the sources and type of heroin available in parts of the United States vary from region to region. Most of the heroin found in the eastern United States is high-purity heroin from South America. The simple fact is heroin is not produced within the continental U.S. In defense of illegally imported narcotics, the U.S. government relies on intelligence gathered and analyzed by its field agents and inspectors to develop profiles for targeting suspected threats. The locations and means of smuggling have changed because traffickers have tremendous flexibility. The primary methods were aircraft and maritime vessels until interdiction efforts caused increased use of tractor-trailers, containers, and private vehicles.

Since Customs cannot examine all shipments arriving in the U.S. it targets high-risk shipments and points of entry for examination. The DEA view containerized commercial cargo transported by trucks and ships as the nation’s most substantial threat. Overall they currently inspect less than 5 percent of these containers. Presently, four people could be required for up to 8 hours to unload, search, and reload a single 40-foot container. The job of interdicting narcotics for the US is enormous. Take for example the southwest border of the United States and Mexico. They share almost 2,000 miles of the border. Customs operates 38 ports of entry through which daily; pass an average of about 240,000 trucks, cars, and 640,000 pedestrians. Now most of the heroin seized by the DEA now comes from Colombia and Mexico. Previously, Southeast and Southwest Asian heroin dominated the U.S. market.

The Dominican Republic and Columbia: Both have played significant roles in heroin distribution for the past two decades and quickly saturated markets by providing low-cost, high-purity heroin. Of the estimated six metric tons produced in Colombia each year, virtually all is destined for the U.S. market. The primary bases for Dominican trafficking groups are outlets in East Coast cities. Southwest Asian and Southeast Asia: These groups importing heroin from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and the Golden Triangle area (Thailand, Laos) are highly cohesive and difficult to penetrate because they are based on ethnic and religious relationships. They distribute heroin by way of Asian-based networks in the Northeastern U.S. and Mid Atlantic cities. South America and Mexico: Mexican criminal gangs in Mexico are in charge of the street-level distribution of heroin in the United States. Their networks even market their heroin using brand names as a way to instill customer recognition and loyalty.

They also employ strategic marketing tactics such as providing free samples of heroin, in order to build a clientele. Nearly all the heroin produced in South America is destined for U.S. distribution. In the past, couriers typically smuggled only small quantities of heroin across the U.S.-Mexico border. Now, however, heroin is being smuggled in larger amounts, as indicated by the seizure of larger shipments. For example, in 1999, authorities seized 55 pounds of heroin at the Texas border town of Del Rio and 19 pounds were recently seized from a smuggler near Edna, Texas. Trafficking groups all use a wide range of smuggling methods. By concealing heroin in body cavities to concealing their heroin in public transportation vehicles or privately owned motor vehicles fitted with false compartments. They use delivery mail services to ship the drug or send it via commercial package through express mail services. Usually, smuggling quantities ranging from one to twenty kilograms via couriers on commercial airlines or concealed in commercial cargo. The U.S. response to trafficking and smuggling is 3 fold, aimed at first-reducing production, secondly-interdiction, and finally -demand reduction.

Reducing production efforts include…

  • Eradication of crops in the source countries
  • Dismantling cartels
  • Interdicting drug movements
  • Providing intelligence to source nations

Interdiction efforts include…

  • Disrupting air routes
  • Hardening the ports of entry
  • Increasing use of technology
  •  Building fences by the U.S. Border Patrol Demand reduction efforts include…
  •  Advertising campaigns to reduce new users from entering the pipeline to chronic, hardcore drug use
  • Supporting and promoting effective, efficient, and accessible drug treatment programs

The National Drug Control Strategy – Annual Report for the Year 2000 cites that the United States is continually spending more and more money for its domestic and international “War On Drugs” In a March 2000 briefing report about terrorism and drug trafficking, given to congressional requesters by the National Security and Internal Affairs Division. NSIA stated, “The U.S. domestic strategy is to reduce drug use and its consequences while protecting individual liberties. The international challenge is to develop effective programs that reduce cultivation, production, and trafficking of illegal drugs while supporting the democratic process and human rights.” The notable performance goals of this strategy are to reduce the demand and number of chronic drug users by 25 percent in 2002 and by 50 percent in 2007. Are you on the right track? Domestic efforts claim to have made some success. Nevertheless, all points indicate that due to the increasing abuse, addiction, and availability, America has its hands full.

Works Cited Page

  • Gonzalez, Jose. Aka. Torres, Jose. Personal interview. 23 November 2001
  • Langford, John. Lowinson, Joyce. Millman, Robert. Substance Abuse. Maryland. Williams and Williams. 1992
  • National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA). Online, Internet. <http://www.samhsa.gov/oas/NHSDA/99YouthState/toc.htm>
  • Simpson, Carolyn. Methadone. New York. Rosen Publishing Group, 1997.
  • Suro, Roberto. Washington Post. 1996. The Push for Heroin in Lowell <http://www-tech.mit.edu/V116/N52/coke.52w.html>
  • U.S Drug Enforcement Agency Page. Online, Internet. <http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/heroin.htm
  • Department of Justice. Supply of Illicit Drugs to the U. S. Online, Internet. <http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/heroin.htm>

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