First, the bad news: The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that in 2016 about 948,000 Americans reported using heroin (also known as “horse,” “smack” or “H”) in the past year, a number that has been on the rise since 2007. The primary driver of the trend appears to be young adults, ages 18–25. The number of people using heroin for the first time is high, with 170,000 people trying heroin for the first time 2016 — nearly double the number of people in 2006.
The good news? Heroin use has been declining among teens aged 12–17. In fact, past-year heroin use among the nation’s 8th, 10th, and 12th graders is at its lowest levels since 1991 — less than 1 percent.
While this news is encouraging, we still see far too many teens suffering from active heroin addiction — often brought about by prescription opioid abuse. Because heroin is so powerfully addictive, it’s possible to become reliant on it after only one or two uses. That’s why it’s so important for young people to receive early intervention and get help as soon as heroin use becomes apparent.
Heroin is an opiate that has been synthesized from morphine. Originally intended as a medical alternative to morphine in the 19th century, heroin quickly became known for its addictive nature and was made illegal. Today, it’s widely available on the street and, depending on the part of the country and its supply, it can be a white or brown powder.
There’s also another form of heroin called black tar heroin, which is named for its dark, sticky, tar-like appearance. This variety is much less pure than the powdered form of heroin, and can have any number of adulterants — including fentanyl.
Heroin can be smoked or snorted, although many people prefer to inject it. Some people mix it with crack cocaine, a dangerous practice known as “speedballing,” which augments the properties of both the heroin and the crack. As legal painkillers became overprescribed and easily available, opioid abuse took hold throughout the United States — leading to skyrocketing use of heroin as well. According to a study from the American Public Health Association, nearly 80 percent of people who reported trying heroin in the past year had previously abused pain medication.
The symptoms of heroin use overlap with a number of other drugs, however, they should still give you pause. If you’re concerned your child is using heroin, here are a few patterns to look for:
The euphoria that accompanies heroin use doesn’t last long, so it’s necessary to take repeated hits in order to maintain it. Other side effects of heroin use can include nausea and vomiting, itching, dry mouth, slowed heart rate and slipping in and out of consciousness.
One of the most telltale signs of heroin use involves drug paraphernalia, such as syringes, spoons, glass or metal pipes, and scorched aluminum foil. If you notice these items, please don’t delay in having a conversation with your teen immediately.
Heroin purchased on the street is unpredictable, as it’s impossible to know what adulterants have been used to cut it. Right now, fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that is 20 to 50 times stronger than heroin — has made its way onto the street and into many batches of heroin. Many people have purchased this substance thinking they were buying heroin, and accidentally overdosed as a result.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid-involved overdose deaths (including heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids) rose from 21,088 in 2010 to 47,600 in 2017 and remained steady in 2018 with 46,802 deaths.
At Safe Landing, the first priority is to get your child to detox safely and comfortably from heroin. Our medical team makes sure they have the medication to avoid any unnecessary discomfort in those important early days of recovery. But we also understand that abstaining from heroin (and other toxic substances) is only the beginning. Healing occurs when your teen explores what has caused his or her addiction, then works through those issues.
Safe Landing provides your teen with an individual recovery plan. Together, we’ll discuss the best plan to approach teen drug rehab, including residential inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment options like our partial hospitalization program and intensive outpatient program, as well as aftercare.
Some of the best treatment options for teen heroin addiction include evidence-based therapies for substance abuse like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), trauma therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Our recreational therapy and wellness options provide a complete and well-rounded strategy for success.