Saturday, 20 February 2010

typical heroin user is often depicted on television as an unclean person sitting next to some back-alley garbage dumpster with a needle in his or her arm

 typical heroin user is often depicted on television as an unclean person sitting next to some back-alley garbage dumpster with a needle in his or her arm. It can be easy for a morally “clean” person to see this and think “that will never be me.”


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Labeling and compartmentalizing a drug addict as “other” than one’s self-identified category is typical, according to Phil Adkins of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin Counties.

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He said comparing one’s own self-image to that of a person whose life is “in the gutter” can put one at risk. He says everyone is capable of becoming an addict and thinking it’s impossible is unrealistic. In part, this is because the image of an addict is based exclusively on the end result. Adkins said heroin addicts often end up in a very different world than they started in. He describes their journey from happiness to hell:

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“The brain’s pleasure centers fire when you fall in love, win a big game or experience anything that gives you pleasure. Heroin binds to these opiate receptors and when a person’s body builds a tolerance for it, those pleasure centers don’t fire correctly. They’re sort of ‘numbed’ and you can no longer feel pleasure from the things that used to make you feel good. Heroin addicts are depressed all the time; they can’t derive pleasure from being with their girlfriend or boyfriend because they’ve squeezed their pleasure centers like a sponge and they can no longer produce endorphins. So, because of the opiate, they feel terrible all the time.

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“Your body regulates itself naturally. If you do anything pleasurable, your body produces endorphins but heroine has taken over. You go from autopilot to a manual over-ride. So, instead of your body managing those pleasure centers, heroin now controls them and when the heroin isn’t in your system, the withdrawal is severe. Heroin’s absence is telling the body to go back to autopilot but the way it does that has been severely compromised; it has been permanently altered by heroin. If you were functioning at a rating of 70 before injecting heroin, the drug took you to a 75 or 80 but when it’s gone, you don’t go back to 70 — you go to 30. Heroin compromises the body’s ability to function autonomically.”

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The withdrawal symptoms include an extremely severe craving for heroin that can land a formerly-functional person in a living nightmare. Adkins says craving a state of normal function is so severe that heroin becomes the driving force in a person’s life. It takes a very clean person and makes them do things they never dreamed of to get a “fix.”

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“Once people are addicted, instead of using for a ‘high,’ or altered mood-state, they’re just trying to get back to 70 but they can’t. They have to be high on heroin just to feel normal and find escape from the withdrawal symptoms. They are looking at having a life in which they will never feel good, like they did when they first tried heroin. Their entire life their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being is now owned by heroin and is forever tied to the experience of becoming addicted to it,” he said.

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“People prostitute themselves and all kinds of things. People’s veins collapse from injecting heroin and I know of one case where a guy’s veins collapsed to the point that he started cutting himself open to administer heroin. That’s drastic but not outside of the realm of a heroin addict. If you were in Kenton and needed a ‘fix’ and I told you there was a syringe with heroin in it laying in front of St. Rita’s, you would crawl on glass to get there. People do very off-the-wall things when looking for their substance.”

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