die from heroin withdrawal

Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawal?

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As numbers of those suffering from the opioid epidemic continue to climb, many people question whether or not you can die from heroin withdrawal.  The simple answer is that, yes, you can.

Heroin: What is it?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin is an opioid made from morphine.  Morphine is a substance extracted from opium poppy plants. The plants are most commonly found in Southwest and Southeast Asia, Columbia or Mexico. Heroin can be found in a white powder or a brown powder. It can also be a black sticky substance that is commonly referred to on the streets as black tar heroin. 

Heroin Use: The Numbers

While heroin and opioids have been a problem for years, lately the numbers are rising at such an alarming rate that it is now considered an epidemic. As such, the drug has infiltrated and affects all demographics, ages, and socioeconomic statuses all across the globe. 

In the United States, reports have up to 2.1 million heroin users. Eighteen percent of admissions to rehab/treatment centers in the US are for an addiction to heroin. Studies have tracked users as young as twelve years old.

In Europe, heroin is responsible for four out of every five drug-related deaths, according to a report from the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction.

The rise in the use of heroin is tied to the abuse of prescription opioids.  Though doctors prescribe these powerful drugs to relieve pain, they are highly addictive. Once addicted, users find heroin to be a cheaper and more accessible option to the prescription drugs, albeit one with similar potency. 

Consequences of Heroin Use

The most obvious consequence of heroin use is an overdose and/or death caused by overdose. But heroin can also affect the innocent, as many children of addicted mothers are now being born addicted to the substance. Heroin also spreads infectious diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis C.

Common Medications Used to Treat Heroin Addiction

Heroin is such a strong narcotic that treating an addiction usually requires one or more of several medications: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.

Heroin overdoses are also on the rise. A large dose of heroin often slows down both breathing and the heart rate so much that the user will not survive unless medical attention is sought. 

As both heroin use and incidents of overdose permeates society to a larger degree, the use of Narcan has become commonplace. Narcan is a form of naloxone, one of the agents used to counteract an overdose. Narcan is accessible to caregivers and family members in the event of an emergency. As heroin overdoses increased, Narcan was made available in nasal spray form to keep on hand should critical action need to be taken. Time is often an issue when a heroin overdose is involved and the nasal spray is an effective intervention while awaiting medical assistance. 

Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawal?

Because heroin is so potent and so powerful, it is natural to wonder if you can die from heroin withdrawals. There are plenty of horror stories about the difficulties of rehabilitation from heroin addiction, so the question is a natural one. Withdrawal from any type of substance usually puts the patient at risk for dehydration and even Grand Mal Seizures. 

However, heroin is much more potent and so the unfortunate answer is that, yes, according to the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center, death from heroin withdrawal is possible. This is because, during heroin withdrawal, the body experiences hypernatremia or elevated blood sodium levels. This condition can lead to heart failure, which can ultimately lead to death. 

For this reason, it is important that the withdrawal not be attempted alone; quitting “cold turkey” is also not suggested due to the dangers inherent in the withdrawal process. Professional staff and a controlled setting, such as a medically supervised detox center, should be utilized. 

No matter how a user chooses to fight the addiction to heroin, the process is one that requires medical management. For this reason, it is important to note that programs need to be in place at any location where heroin users may go through withdrawal. This includes jails and prisons. 

If you or someone you know suffers from any type of addiction, there is no shame in reaching out to seek help. Contact Ocean Hills Recovery to begin your journey to recovery in a safe, controlled fashion and put yourself back on a healthy path toward healing and happiness.


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