Everything about heroin has changed full throttle during the past fifty years or so. The mid 1960’s saw a surge of illegal heroin being smuggled into the US and by 1970 there were close to a million heroin addicts in the US alone. Much of this was blamed on Vietnam, the Corsican gangsters, and the French Connection that allowed for easy smuggling.
The Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970 stating that drugs classified under the act would be under Federal jurisdiction, which included heroin. This was the beginning of an emerging trend. The emergence of AIDS, which was first identified in 1981 created an urgent need for an effective way to treat those addicted to heroin since one of the main ways the deadly disease is spread is via contaminated needles which are common amongst heroin IV users.
The only proven treatment, at that time was methadone, which was implemented by the federal government. The initial plan was to have the heroin addict go through a 20-day detox. That plan quickly fell apart and the use of methadone was extended indefinitely. This caused a public outcry over the use of tax dollars. This is when people started to form the strong opinion that methadone maintenance was nothing more than a drug that allowed addicts to replace one drug for another. This prompted the government to craft harsh regulations around methadone and its treatment. Methadone clinics at that time did not require any forms of counseling or therapy.
A major breakthrough was when those in the medical arena started to recognize addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease as opposed to a person lacking moral character. Following this more treatment options were discovered, although methadone is still used it is only available through specialized treatment clinics and now require the individual to regularly see a doctor, attend group and individual therapy, and attend 12 Step meetings.
In 2002 the FDA approved the use of Buprenorphine to be used for opioid addiction treatment. This can be prescribed in a doctor’s office and is a combination of the drug and an opiate blocker. In 2010 the FDA approved naltrexone, which is a long-acting drug that treats opioid addiction. One dose can last as long as eight weeks.
In the future, more treatment options are expected to emerge. These along with current efforts will be extremely beneficial for thwarting heroin abuse. One of the most important developments will be when there are more acceptances that addiction is a brain disease and some of the humiliation and shame surrounding heroin addiction can be washed away.
According to current estimates there are over half a million people that need treatment for heroin addiction. The number of people that are dying from drug related issues is equal to the number that dies in auto accidents annually. There are now more than one million heroin users and some use it recreationally but more than 200,000 use it regularly.
It is clear that while there have been major breakthroughs surrounding heroin more needs to desperately be done. Currently, the number of heroin users continues to rise. This is because of the prescription pill epidemic and the efforts that have made getting prescription pills more difficult.
Most of the prescription pain pills are opiates and so is heroin. This means one will suffice is the other is unavailable. It doesn’t take long for a prescription pill popper to discover that heroin does the same thing, is often easier to get and it is fairly cheap.
Since the late 1900’s there have been many discoveries and lengthy studies surrounding heroin use. Opiate receptors and endorphins were identified. As neuroscience has expanded in leaps and bounds the chemicals in the brain and their role in addiction have spoken volumes.
Cheryl Hinneburg is the content writer for KLEAN Treatment Center, located in West Hollywood CA. She is also working on her MS in substance abuse counseling. Cheryl has a BBA from Baker College. Cheryl's specialty is in the field of drug addiction.