Heroin: Heroin, also known as diacetylmorphine and diamorphine among other names, is an opioid used as a recreational drug for its euphoric effects. Medical grade diamorphine is used as a pure hydrochloride salt which is distinguished from black tar heroin, a variable admixture of morphine derivatives—predominantly 6-MAM (6-monoacetylmorphine), which is the result of crude acetylation during clandestine production of street heroin. Diamorphine is used medically in several countries to relieve pain, such as during childbirth or a heart attack, as well as in opioid replacement therapy
It is typically injected, usually into a vein, but it can also be smoked, snorted, or inhaled. In a clinical context the route of administration is most commonly intravenous injection; it may also be given by intramuscular or subcutaneous injection, as well as orally in the form of tablets. The onset of effects is usually rapid and lasts for a few hours.
Common side effects include respiratory depression (decreased breathing), dry mouth, drowsiness, impaired mental function, constipation, and addiction. Side effects of use by injection can include abscesses, infected heart valves, blood-borne infections, and pneumonia. After a history of long-term use, opioid withdrawal symptoms can begin within hours of the last use. When given by injection into a vein, heroin has two to three times the effect of a similar dose of morphine. It typically appears in the form of a white or brown powder.
Treatment of heroin addiction often includes behavioral therapy and medications. Medications can include buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone. A heroin overdose may be treated with naloxone. An estimated 17 million people as of 2015 use opiates, of which heroin is the most common, and opioid use resulted in 122,000 deaths. The total number of heroin users worldwide as of 2015 is believed to have increased in Africa, the Americas, and Asia since 2000. In the United States, approximately 1.6 percent of people have used heroin at some point, with 950,000 using it in the last year. When people die from overdosing on a drug, the drug is usually an opioid and often heroin.
Heroin was first made by C. R. Alder Wright in 1874 from morphine, a natural product of the opium poppy. Internationally, heroin is controlled under Schedules I and IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and it is generally illegal to make, possess, or sell without a license. About 448 tons of heroin were made in 2016. In 2015, Afghanistan produced about 66% of the world’s opium. Illegal heroin is often mixed with other substances such as sugar, starch, caffeine, quinine, or other opioids like fentanyl.
Under the generic name diamorphine, heroin is prescribed as a strong pain medication in the United Kingdom, where it is administered via oral, subcutaneous, intramuscular, intrathecal, intranasal or intravenous routes. It may be prescribed for the treatment of acute pain, such as in severe physical trauma, myocardial infarction, post-surgical pain and chronic pain, including end-stage terminal illnesses. In other countries it is more common to use morphine or other strong opioids in these situations. In 2004, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence produced guidance on the management of caesarean section, which recommended the use of intrathecal or epidural diamorphine for post-operative pain relief. For women who have had intrathecal opioids, there should be a minimum hourly observation of respiratory rate, sedation and pain scores for at least 12 hours for diamorphine and 24 hours for morphine. Women should be offered diamorphine (0.3–0.4 mg intrathecally) for intra- and postoperative analgesia because it reduces the need for supplemental analgesia after a caesarean section. Epidural diamorphine (2.5–5 mg) is a suitable alternative.
Diamorphine continues to be widely used in palliative care in the UK, where it is commonly given by the subcutaneous route, often via a syringe driver if patients cannot easily swallow morphine solution. The advantage of diamorphine over morphine is that diamorphine is more fat soluble and therefore more potent by injection, so smaller doses of it are needed for the same effect on pain. Both of these factors are advantageous if giving high doses of opioids via the subcutaneous route, which is often necessary for palliative care.
It is also used in the palliative management of bone fractures and other trauma, especially in children. In the trauma context, it is primarily given by nose in hospital; although a prepared nasal spray is available. It has traditionally been made by the attending physician, generally from the same “dry” ampoules as used for injection. In children, Ayendi nasal spray is available at 720 micrograms and 1600 micrograms per 50 microlitres actuation of the spray, which may be preferable as a non-invasive alternative in pediatric care, avoiding the fear of injection in children.
A number of European countries prescribe heroin for treatment of heroin addiction. The initial Swiss HAT (Heroin-assisted treatment) trial (“PROVE” study) was conducted as a prospective cohort study with some 1,000 participants in 18 treatment centers between 1994 and 1996, at the end of 2004, 1,200 patients were enrolled in HAT in 23 treatment centers across Switzerland. Diamorphine may be used as a maintenance drug to assist the treatment of opiate addiction, normally in long-term chronic intravenous (IV) heroin users. It is only prescribed following exhaustive efforts at treatment via other means. It is sometimes thought that heroin users can walk into a clinic and walk out with a prescription, but the process takes many weeks before a prescription for diamorphine is issued. Though this is somewhat controversial among proponents of a zero-tolerance drug policy, it has proven superior to methadone in improving the social and health situations of addicts.
The UK Department of Health’s Rolleston Committee Report in 1926 established the British approach to diamorphine prescription to users, which was maintained for the next 40 years: dealers were prosecuted, but doctors could prescribe diamorphine to users when withdrawing. In 1964, the Brain Committee recommended that only selected approved doctors working at approved specialized centres be allowed to prescribe diamorphine and cocaine to users. The law was made more restrictive in 1968. Beginning in the 1970s, the emphasis shifted to abstinence and the use of methadone; currently, only a small number of users in the UK are prescribed diamorphine.
In 1994, Switzerland began a trial diamorphine maintenance program for users that had failed multiple withdrawal programs. The aim of this program was to maintain the health of the user by avoiding medical problems stemming from the illicit use of diamorphine. The first trial in 1994 involved 340 users, although enrollment was later expanded to 1000, based on the apparent success of the program. The trials proved diamorphine maintenance to be superior to other forms of treatment in improving the social and health situation for this group of patients.It has also been shown to save money, despite high treatment expenses, as it significantly reduces costs incurred by trials, incarceration, health interventions and delinquency. Patients appear twice daily at a treatment center, where they inject their dose of diamorphine under the supervision of medical staff. They are required to contribute about 450 Swiss francs per month to the treatment costs. A national referendum in November 2008 showed 68% of voters supported the plan introducing diamorphine prescription into federal law. The previous trials were based on time-limited executive ordinances. The success of the Swiss trials led German, Dutch, and Canadian cities to try out their own diamorphine prescription programs Some Australian cities (such as Sydney) have instituted legal diamorphine supervised injecting centers, in line with other wider harm minimization programs.
Since January 2009, Denmark has prescribed diamorphine to a few addicts who have tried methadone and buprenorphine without success.Beginning in February 2010, addicts in Copenhagen and Odense became eligible to receive free diamorphine. Later in 2010, other cities including Århus and Esbjerg joined the scheme. It was estimated that around 230 addicts would be able to receive free diamorphine.
However, Danish addicts would only be able to inject heroin according to the policy set by Danish National Board of Health.Of the estimated 1500 drug users who did not benefit from the then-current oral substitution treatment, approximately 900 would not be in the target group for treatment with injectable diamorphine, either because of “massive multiple drug abuse of non-opioids” or “not wanting treatment with injectable diamorphine”.
In July 2009, the German Bundestag passed a law allowing diamorphine prescription as a standard treatment for addicts; a large-scale trial of diamorphine prescription had been authorized in the country in 2002.
On 26 August 2016, Health Canada issued regulations amending prior regulations it had issued under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act; the “New Classes of Practitioners Regulations”, the “Narcotic Control Regulations”, and the “Food and Drug Regulations”, to allow doctors to prescribe diamorphine to people who have a severe opioid addiction who have not responded to other treatments. The prescription heroin can be accessed by doctors through Health Canada’s Special Access Programme (SAP) for “emergency access to drugs for patients with serious or life-threatening conditions when conventional treatments have failed, are unsuitable, or are unavailable
Heroin overdose is usually treated with the opioid antagonist, naloxone. This reverses the effects of heroin and causes an immediate return of consciousness but may result in withdrawal symptoms. The half-life of naloxone is shorter than some opioids, such that it may need to be given multiple times until the opioid has been metabolized by the body.
Between 2012 and 2015, heroin was the leading cause of drug related deaths in the United States. Since then fentanyl has been a more common cause of drug related deaths.
Depending on drug interactions and numerous other factors, death from overdose can take anywhere from several minutes to several hours. Death usually occurs due to lack of oxygen resulting from the lack of breathing caused by the opioid. Heroin overdoses can occur because of an unexpected increase in the dose or purity or because of diminished opioid tolerance. However, many fatalities reported as overdoses are probably caused by interactions with other depressant drugs such as alcohol or benzodiazepines. Since heroin can cause nausea and vomiting, a significant number of deaths attributed to heroin overdose are caused by aspiration of vomit by an unconscious person. Some sources quote the median lethal dose (for an average 75 kg opiate-naive individual) as being between 75 and 600 mg. Illicit heroin is of widely varying and unpredictable purity. This means that the user may prepare what they consider to be a moderate dose while actually taking far more than intended. Also, tolerance typically decreases after a period of abstinence. If this occurs and the user takes a dose comparable to their previous use, the user may experience drug effects that are much greater than expected, potentially resulting in an overdose. It has been speculated that an unknown portion of heroin-related deaths are the result of an overdose or allergic reaction to quinine, which may sometimes be used as a cutting agent.