The world has lost many famous people to heroin, but it is not only the rich and famous who take the direct route to broken dreams. The drug cuts regular, everyday people off from the rest of the world, leaving behind angry and heartbroken spouses, parents, children, and friends. The addict is left alone, broke, and willing to give up anything for the next high. Family is left to wonder how a caring, talented loved one can throw everything away for a drug that has a high probability of killing them.
Recent high-profile heroin-related deaths have included Peaches Geldorf and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Other well-known names lost the same way include River Phoenix, John Belushi, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin. But what about the daughter, son, husband, or father of the normal people of the world? They are all left questioning what happened to their world, how the nightmare got started, and whether it will ever end.
Heroin, illegal and highly addictive, has dangers for so many reasons. As it is usually injected there is the danger of AIDS. Since the user buying the drug on the street never knows its strength they are at constant risk of overdose. The drug is also frequently diluted with other substances including sugar, caffeine, or even strychnine or other poisons. These additives do not always dissolve completely when injected and can clog important blood vessels, resulting in the destruction of vital organs. This is why using leaves a person extremely thin and bony, sickly and, eventually, dead. By the late 20th century heroin addicts had reached a mortality rate 20 times greater than the rest of the population.
Heroin, like opium and morphine, is made of the resin of poppy plants. It was first manufactured in 1898 by the German Bayer Pharmaceutical company as a tuberculosis treatment and, ironically, as a remedy for morphine addiction. In the mid-19th century, opium addiction was a major problem in the U.S., the solution to which was to given the addicts the supposedly non-addictive morphine. Soon morphine addiction was a bigger problem than opium, so another non-addictive substance, heroin, was used to treat that. Of course it is now known that heroin is even more addictive than morphine. Methadone was developed in 1937 as a treatment for heroin addiction, but it proved to be even more addictive.
Families have to wonder how their addict managed to find heroin in the first place. It is bewildering to think that a novice drug-seeker could just find a dealer and start buying. Some have sought it out after misusing prescription drugs, when those stop having the desired effect or become unavailable. The downer effect produced by heroin can be especially attractive to people who are stressed and subject to anxiety attacks, especially if they have been unable to get medical professionals to treat that anxiety in a legitimate fashion.
Withdrawal from friends and family is a major symptom of heroin abuse and addiction, as is lying, stealing, and lack of interest in formerly favorite activities. Family members who have been through the roller coaster of relapse and recovery, relapse and recovery, can always read the symptoms when it all starts again. Not hearing from a son or daughter who normally keeps in close contact is a red flag danger signal to many parents, who just wait for the heartbreaking phone call announcing yet another downswing.
Heroin may give the user a rush of good feelings, but it does not give the addicts’ family members anything but a rush of horror. It is not only the heroin addict who is taking the boulevard straight to broken dreams. Their family and everyone they know are dragged right along with them.
Opinion by Beth A. Balen