Welcome to part 2 of my collection of largely uninformed thoughts on addiction! Anyone who missed it can find Part 1 here — it’s a poorly-thought-out mess, just like everything else on here. Enjoy! This weekend’s post will be somewhat shorter (for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I don’t have a lot to say — not that that’s stopped me from writing too much before). It’s a random collection of unsupported facts and thoughts about one of the most addictive substance known to man: heroin. Also enjoy!
I was a resident assistant in college, and man did I see a lot of heroin use. No! That’s crazy. Instead, I took part in mandatory training sessions about the hip new trends in college-aged kids: stress (as managed through alcohol abuse), sex (as effected through alcohol abuse), suicide (through alcohol abuse), and alcohol abuse. Through this rigorous training, I gained a deep and fundamental understanding for just how much college students like abuse alcohol. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.
However, one of the presenters during training struck a chord with me (it was actually the training on rote alcohol abuse) — a guy named Wilkie Wilson who professes Prevention Science (whatever that is?) and has a PhD in pharmacology. Not only was he a Pretty Cool Dude (and as a PCD myself I’m an authority on the subject), but he seemed to have a pretty good handle on why people were using (or abusing) various substances, and he presented us a different picture than the one that I had heard a thousand times in training, which was basically “college kids like to drink, it’s our job to stop them from drinking [at all | too much].” Instead, he focused on the dangers of alcohol in particular and sort of left it up to us to decide what constituted risky behavior. (Ed. note: Honestly I don’t remember a whole ton about this training, other than that it was interesting and he was a Pretty Cool Dude.)
At the end he plugged a book of his that went into the details of the pharmacological effects of a bunch of heavily-abused drugs called Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy (ignore the fact that it should be called “The Straight Dope About…”). His talk provided an interesting enough perspective that I decided to pick it up. Interestingly, the key takeaway that I got from it was that drugs aren’t as terrifying as they seem, that alcohol is more dangerous than it seems, and that heroin in particular isn’t so bad … sorta. And that’s the one that’s stuck with me, because heroin is always used as the example of the most dangerous drug. At this point in my life, I know a lot of people who have done ecstasy or smoked pot or even done cocaine — I know no one who has even thought about doing heroin for that reason. With that in mind, here’s a list of crazy things you probably didn’t know about heroin!
Heroin: Safe Drug? Or the Safest Drug?
This is the most interesting thing about heroin to me. You know that scene in Pulp Fiction where they Uma Thurman accidentally snorts a line of heroin thinking it’s cocaine and overdoses and they have to go to the dealer’s place and she gets stabbed in the heart by the world’s largest needle to give her a shot of adrenaline?
I always assumed that was a bit of creative license. And guess what! I was right. You can’t reverse a heroin overdose with adrenaline. You can reverse heroin with naloxone. Immediately. As long as the heart is still beating, it has close to a 100% success rate. To paraphrase the book, doing heroin (or other opiates) in a hospital is probably actually safer than doing most non-opiate prescription drugs (in or out of hospitals), since those can’t be immediately reversed.
Granted, most people aren’t carrying around a whole bunch of insta-revival juice, and even if they are the people they’re doing heroin with aren’t usually in a state to revive them, since they’re … on heroin. However, heroin has another property going for it — no long-lasting effects. Whereas prolonged cocaine use can cause psychosis (and something called “swiss cheese brain,” which is where you basically lose blood flow to parts of your brain through a series of tiny strokes so it looks like swiss cheese when they do brain scans), if you quit heroin the only thing you’re left with is a crippling longing for more heroin, an inability to medically manage pain, and something I like to call “swiss cheese relationships,” where your heroin addiction has carved holes into all of the relationships you used to have and you’re left with a path of destruction in your wake. But medically it’ll be mostly like you never abused heroin at all!
Heroin can be snorted
I always thought you could only inject heroin, and a key component of the Pulp Fiction thing was that she had snorted it, which I assumed meant instant overdose. But it turns out that’s not true — most people start heroin by snorting and move on to injecting only after they’ve gotten bored with snorting. (In Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis’s autobiography Scar Tissue, he describes his first experience with heroin as mistaking it for cocaine. Spoiler alert: he didn’t die.) Who knew?
There is a crazy problem with heroin in America right now
Thanks largely to readily-available and easy-to-abuse (not to mention incredibly addictive) opiate painkillers, the US has experienced an incredible uptick of opiate addiction — and thanks to an increase in the price of those painkillers and a market flood of heroin driving prices well below those of the prescription opiates, the US is experiencing a record heroin problem, even outside of urban centers in suburban and rural America. This was highlighted recently by the death of famed actor and heroin addict Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died with seventy bags of heroin around him. When I heard this I immediately thought, “Certainly this is an amount of heroin no mortal human could hope to afford! You’d have to be a rich and famous movie star to get 70 bags of heroin!” I was wrong — a bag of heroin is roughly a dose* and goes for about $10 on the street now, so that was like … $700 worth of heroin. That’s surprisingly affordable for the average suburbanite junkie. And that’s crazy.
This was just a couple things I found out about heroin that were interesting to me as someone who has seen literally zero heroin in his lifetime. These are presented as interesting facts (in particular the “safety” section) and in no way are meant to condone heroin use. Don’t use heroin.
*I googled this on my work computer. It was almost certainly a mistake.