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Heroin, or diamorphine, is an incredibly dangerous opioid analgesic, and many people who try the drug recreationally quickly develop a powerful addiction to it. It is arguably one of the most destructive of all illicit drug addictions. Heroin addiction requires treatment and intervention from the outset. Drug rehabilitation and treatment from heroin addiction is essential as soon as possible to get the user back on the road to recovery. Pathways Plett Rehab use the very best clinics, psychiatrists and doctors to detox clients from heroin addiction.

heroin addict

Heroin by definition is a white odorless bitter-tasting crystalline powder related to morphine: a highly addictive narcotic. Formula: C 21 H 23 NO 5 Technical names diamorphine, diacetylmorphine. Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. It is typically sold as a white or brownish powder that is “cut” with sugars, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. Pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste that predominantly originates in South America and, to a lesser extent, from Southeast Asia, and dominates U.S. markets east of the Mississippi River. Highly pure heroin can be snorted or smoked and may be more appealing to new users because it eliminates the stigma associated with injection drug use. “Black tar” heroin is sticky like roofing tar or hard like coal and is predominantly produced in Mexico and sold in U.S. areas west of the Mississippi River. The dark color associated with black tar heroin results from crude processing methods that leave behind impurities. Impure heroin is usually dissolved, diluted, and injected into veins, muscles, or under the skin.

With regular heroin use, tolerance develops where the abuser must use more heroin to achieve the same intensity or effect. As higher doses are used over time, physical dependence and addiction develop. With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms may occur if use is reduced or stopped. Withdrawal, which in regular abusers may occur as early as a few hours after the last administration, produces drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (cold turkey”), kicking movements and other symptoms. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. Sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health is occasionally fatal, although heroin withdrawal is considered much less dangerous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal.

Why Heroin is so dangerous

Like most opioids, unadulterated heroin does not cause many long-term complications other than dependence and constipation. The average purity of street heroin in the UK varies between 30% and 50% and heroin that has been seized at the border has purity levels between 40% and 60%; this variation has led to people suffering from overdoses as a result of the heroin missing a stage on its journey from port to end user, as each set of hands that the drug passes through adds further adulterants, the strength of the drug reduces, with the effect that if steps are missed, the purity of the drug reaching the end user is higher than they are used to. Intravenous use of heroin (and any other substance) with non-sterile needles and syringes or other related equipment may lead to:

– The risk of contracting blood-borne pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis by the sharing of needles

– The risk of contracting bacterial or fungal endocarditis and possibly venous sclerosis

– Abscesses

– Poisoning from contaminants added to “cut” or dilute heroin

– Decreased kidney function (although it is not currently known if this is because of adulterants or infectious   diseases).

Treatment Options for Heroin Addiction or Overdose


The treatment for heroin addiction is a very challenging process. Detox must be done by a reputable psychiatrist and clinic, such as those used by Pathways Plett Rehab Centre. Relapse and returning to the drug after treatment is a common occurrence. For this reason, it is important for addicts to undergo an extensive recovery program that targets both the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. There are numerous programs treating heroin addictions available; however, each individual needs a personalized program that will best meet their needs to ensure a successful lifelong recovery.

To combat the highly addictive nature of heroin, physicians may use other medications to alleviate cravings and eventually wean addicts off the drug. The medications that are most commonly prescribed usually have a specific schedule on which they must be taken to be truly effective. Sometimes there are other risks associated with taking these medications, and monitoring their use is often suggested. Detoxification (detox) is time consuming. It can take weeks or even months to be free from the drug’s effects, depending on the severity of the addiction.

There is no alternative that beats drug rehab centre treatment for heroin use. The drugs are still symptoms of underlying emotional pain and conflict. This has to be addressed if we are to expect successful and lasting recovery results. That is where Pathways Plett Recovery Centre fits in best.

Several medical treatment options exist for heroin addiction. These treatments can be effective when combined with a medication compliance program and behavioral therapy. Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose), buprenorphine (Subutex, brand discontinued in U.S), buprenorphine combined with naloxone (Suboxone) and naltrexone (Depade, ReVia) are approved in the US to treat opioid dependence. These treatments work by binding fully or partially to opiate receptors in the brain and work as agonists, antagonists or a combination of the two. Agonists mimic the action of the opiate, and antagonists block and reverse the action of the opiate. Oral administration of these drugs may allow for a more gradual withdrawal from opiates. A long-acting intramuscular depot formulation of naltrexone (Vivitrol) is also available for use following opiate detoxification. Now Buprenorphine is also on the market as a treatment.

Generally speaking a variety of effective treatments are available for heroin addiction, including both behavioral and pharmacological (medications). Both approaches help to restore a degree of normalcy to brain function and behavior, resulting in increased employment rates and lower risk of HIV and other diseases and criminal behavior. Although behavioral and pharmacological treatments can be extremely useful when utilized alone, research shows that for some people, integrating both types of treatments is the most effective approach.

Heroin is the main illicit opiate abused in South Africa. Between 8 and 21% of all patients who presented for treatment of substance dependency in the first half of 2006 stated that heroin was their primary or secondary drug of choice. These numbers are increasing, and include all racial groups. In Cape Town and Gauteng more heroin abusers are repeat treatment seekers compared to abusers of other substances. This underlines the relapsing nature of heroin abuse and dependence. Due to the current purity of available heroin in South Africa, smoking and sniffing it can give a high that is equal to that of injection use. There is a misconception that smoking or sniffing heroin is less addictive than injection use; the majority of heroin dependent treatment seekers are smoking it. Many adolescents become heroin dependent in this way.


The use of heroin in combination with other drugs is also on the rise. It includes “nyaope” and “pinch” (a mixture of cheap heroin and Cannabis) and “sugars” (a mixture of heroin and cocaine).

For help with heroin issues please get in touch with Pathways and we will assist you with any questions and queries that you may have + 0044 533 0330