Term Paper: Heroin, Like All Drugs, Knows No Social

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Heroin, like all drugs, knows no social, ethnic, or economic barriers. Although most people think of a heroin addict as some 'junkie' shooting up in an urban back alley, he or she is just as likely to be a corporate CEO or high school student. Heroin users can be found throughout the world. They include all ages and race, rural and urban. Once prescribed for common respiratory ailments, heroin today is prescribed as a potent pain-killer, however used illegally as a street drug, it can prove lethal.

In 1898, a German chemical company, founded by Friedrich Bayer, marketed a new cough medicine called 'Heroin,' a drug that now floods illegally throughout the world in record amounts. During the early nineteenth century, medicines were prepared by using crude natural materials such an opium, the dried milky substance of poppy seed pods. Friedrich Serturner first applied chemical analysis to plant drugs by purifying the main active ingredient of opium, calling it 'morphium,' after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus (Scott). In the late 1890's, Heinrich Dreser, head of Bayer's pharmacological laboratory, adopted this strategy to produce one of the world's most famous drugs, heroin, which was made by adding two acetyl groups to the morphine molecule (Scott). Heroin gets its name from the adjective 'heroisch (heroic),' which was often used by nineteenth century German doctors to describe a powerful medicine (Scott). In 1898 Dreser presented this new drug to the Congress of German Naturalists and Physicians as a cough, chest and lung medicine, and it was rapidly adopted in medical establishments throughout Europe as an alternative to morphine and codeine (Scott). Even today, heroin is known to be more potent and faster acting than morphine because it travels more readily from the bloodstream into the brain (Scott).

Although hailed as a wonder drug, by the early twentieth century reports began to surface that heroin dosages had to be increased with usage to remain effective and that withdrawal symptoms were worse than those of morphine (Scott). In 1903, G.E. Pettey wrote in the Alabama Medical Journal that of the last 150 people he had treated for drug addiction, eight were dependent on heroin, yet most physicians were reluctant to abandon the drug (Scott). In 1911, J.D. Trawick wrote in the Kentucky Medical Journal, "I feel that bringing charges against heroin is almost like questioning the fidelity of a good friend. I have used it with good results" (Scott).

Not surprisingly, the first generation of heroin addicts were middle-aged or older, typically suffering from chronic diseases such as tuberculosis or asthma (Simon). Moreover, they were middle-class or higher, since only those in the upper social circles could afford to be under a physician's care for the ailments, and only those under a doctor's care were exposed to heroin (Simon).

By the late nineteenth century, many European countries had enacted pharmacy laws to control dangerous drugs, however under the United Sates Constitution individual states were responsible for medical regulation (Scott). Although some state laws required morphine and/or cocaine to be physician prescribed, the drugs could be easily obtained in bordering states. Moreover, many over-the-counter medicines still contained these drugs, such as 'soothing syrups' for crying babies (Scott). It is estimated that by the beginning of the twentieth century there were over a quarter of a million Americans (from a population of 76 million) addicted to opium, morphine or cocaine (Scott). President Woodrow Wilson signed the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914, which allowed federal regulation of medical transactions in opium derivatives or cocaine (Scott).

In 1910, New York's Bellevue Hospital made its first admission for heroin addiction, and in 1915 it admitted 425 addicts, who were described in the Psychiatric Bulletin of the New York State Hospitals as gang members, seventeen to twenty-five years of age and took the drug by sniffing (Scott). After 1919, when the legal interpretation of the Harrison Act outlawed medical prescriptions of narcotics to maintain addicts, American drug abusers became totally dependent on the black market sources. It was at this stage that heroin gained popularity among drug dealers, who saw its potential as a compact and powerful substance that could be adulterated easily (Scott).

Also during this era, addicts discovered the enhanced euphoric effects of heroin when it was injected with a hypodermic syringe. By the early 1920's, many New York addicts supported their habit by collecting scrap metal from industrial dumps, hence the term 'junkies' (Scott). In 1922, heroin was blamed for 260 murders in New York, leading the United States Congress to ban all domestic manufacture of heroin in 1924, yet two years later, S.L. Rakusin, the U.S. Narcotic Inspector, declared that heroin seemed "more plentiful than it ever was before" (Scott). Organized crime syndicates were still buying heroin through legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers in Western Europe, Turkey and Bulgaria. By the early 1930's, restrictive policies of the League of Nations had driven many heroin manufacturers underground, however Japan and its occupied territories continued to produce on a massive scale until the end of World War II (Scott).

Since that time, heroin has effectively belonged to the international crime market (Scott).

In 1992, the New York Times carried a front-page story about a successful businessman who was a regular heroin user (Sullum). The story began:

He is an executive in a company in New York, lives in condo on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, drives an expensive car, plays tennis in the Hamptons and vacations with his wife in Europe and the Caribbean.

But unknown to office colleagues, friends, and most of his family, the man is also a longtime heroin user.

He says he finds heroin relaxing and pleasurable and has seen no reason to stop using it until the woman he recently married insisted that he do so. 'The drug is an enhancement of my life; he said. 'I see it as similar to a guy coming home and having a drink of alcohol. Only alcohol has never done it for me'" (Sullum).

The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reports that approximately three million Americans have used heroin during their lifetimes, and of this number, 15% used it within the past year, while 4% in the previous thirty days (Sullum). A survey of high school seniors indicated that 1% had used heroin during the previous year, while 0.1% had used it on twenty or more days during the previous month (Sullum). According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, 8% of drug-related emergency department (ED) visits during the last six months of 2003 involved heroin abuse (NIDA).

Generally, heroin withdrawal symptoms include flu-like symptoms, such as chills, sweating, runny nose and eyes, muscular aches, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and headaches (Sullum). Addicts who have developed a tolerance to the drug, thus needing higher doses to achieve the desired effect, are known to actually volunteer to undergo withdrawal so they can begin using again at a lower dose, thereby reducing the cost of their habit (Sullum). Heroin users commonly go through periods of abstinence and then return to drug use long after physical discomforts had subsided, therefore the fear of withdrawal symptoms is not the essence of addiction (Sullum). In fact, it is a commonplace observation of drug treatment that detoxification is not "tantamount" to overcoming an addiction, and heroin addicts typically repeat detoxification programs before successfully kicking the habit (Sullum).

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports the short-term effects of heroin abuse appear shortly after a single dose and disappear within a few hours. An injection of heroin causes a surge of euphoria, typically called a "rush," which is accompanied by a flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and heavy extremities (NIDA). This initial euphoria is followed by a "on the nod" state, in which the user alternates between wakefulness and drowsiness, as mental function becomes effected by the depression of the nervous system (NIDA). Long-term effects of heroin use include collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, cellutitis, and liver disease, while pulmonary complications may include various types of pneumonia, poor health condition, and depressing effects on respiration (NIDA). Research indicates that heroin abuse during pregnancy has been associated with adverse consequences such as low birth weight, and the risk for developmental delay (NIDA). Moreover, street heroin may have additives that do not readily dissolve, which may result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, which in turn can cause infection or the destruction of small patches of cells in vital organs (NIDA).

The NIDA reports that withdrawal symptoms in regular abusers may occur within a few hours after the last administration, and may include drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, cold flashes with goose bumps, diarrhea, vomiting, kicking movements, and other symptoms (NIDA). The major symptoms generally peak between 48 to 72 hours after the last dose and subside within roughly a week (NIDA). For heavily dependent heroin users who are in poor health, sudden withdrawal is occasionally fatal, however heroin… [END OF PREVIEW]

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