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Heroin and Opiate FAQs

Posted in Heroin Addiction Treatment on November 1, 2016
Last modified on March 26th, 2019

Heroin was once considered a hard core street drug that users shot up in back alleys. Its availability and cheap cost relative to prescription opiates have now brought it into the living rooms of mainstream America, fueling an epidemic.

Is Heroin Natural or Synthetic?

Heroin is derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. Morphine is made into heroin via a chemical reaction containing the chemical compound acetic anhydride. The heroin is then purified using a chemical or mechanical method. Heroin derived from morphine is considered a semi-synthetic opiate because its basis is natural, but it is manufactured through a synthetic process.1

Is There a Genetic Component to Heroin Addiction?

Heroin addiction, like other substance use disorders, may be fueled by complex interactions between genetic susceptibility and environmental factors. Research suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to react more strongly to addictive drugs, thereby causing a comparatively large release of hormones such as dopamine when used. Research also shows  potential for identifying genetic signatures of heroin addiction using a small set of expressed genes. However, this may not be specific to heroin addiction because substance use disorders share some common genetic susceptibility.2

What Are the Dangers of Heroin Use in Pregnant Women?

Heroin withdrawal is usually not fatal in healthy adults; however, fetal death is a risk in pregnant women who are not treated for opioid addiction. This is because infants can experience acute opioid abstinence syndrome. The condition affects 50 to 80 percent of all opioid-exposed infants, and is characterized by gastrointestinal, respiratory, autonomic and central nervous system problems.3

Can Something Be Done to Ensure Safer Use of Prescription Opioids?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the following three principles are key to improving the safe management of patients with chronic pain:

  1. Non-opioid therapy is preferred for chronic pain outside of active cancer, palliative and end-of-life care.
  2. When opioids are used, the lowest possible effective dosage should be prescribed to reduce risks of opioid use disorder and overdose.
  3. Providers should always exercise caution when prescribing opioids and monitor patients closely.4

Has the Abuse-Deterrent Formula (ADF) of OxyContin Decreased Abuse?

A small study found that only 3.3 percent of people who abused OxyContin stopped abusing the drug completely after the ADF formula was released. About 33.3 percent continued to abuse the ADF formulation and the same percentage of people chose other drugs to abuse, with 70 percent turning to heroin.5

Get Evidence-Based Heroin Treatment

There’s life after heroin addiction. Call The Right Step today to learn more about our treatment programs and how we can help you or a loved one recover from heroin abuse. 844-877-1781

  1. Heroin: What Is It? Drug Free World website. http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/heroin.html Accessed October 4, 2016.
  2. Chen S-J, Liao D-L, Shen T-W, Yang H-C, Chen K-C, Chen C-H. Genetic signatures of heroin addiction. Fornaro. M, ed. Medicine. 2016;95(31):e4473. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000004473.
  3. Opioid Abuse, Dependence, and Addiction in Pregnancy. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. http://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Health-Care-for-Underserved-Women/Opioid-Abuse-Dependence-and-Addiction-in-Pregnancy Published May 2012. Updated July 27, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
  4. CDC Releases Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention website. http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0315-prescribing-opioids-guidelines.html Published March 15, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
  5. Lyford J. Reformulated OxyContin reduces abuse but many addicts have switched to heroin. The Pharmaceutical Journal. http://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/news-and-analysis/news/reformulated-oxycontin-reduces-abuse-but-many-addicts-have-switched-to-heroin/20068119.article March 16, 2015. Accessed October 4, 2016.
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