Monday, May 9, 2011

Medical Mondays: Heroin Today, Problems Tomorrow


Our question today comes from Laurel Garver. She's got a great blog called Laurel's Leaves, so check it out if you've never been by.

Laurel asked, "What kind of long-term medical illnesses might a former heroin abuser have? What kinds of symptoms might they suffer from?"

Great questions. Sadly, this was easy for me to answer, as intravenous drug addicts and past users were often seen at the hospital where I trained in residency and medical school.

Heroin is a semi-synthetic drug derived from morphine, which is itself a derivative of the opium poppy.

Chemical name: diacetylmorphine

Street name: dope, horse, smack, tar, dragon, hero, Hera, white, black, brown, chiva, junk, among many others

(Slight aside: did you know morphine was named after the Greek God of Dreams, Morpheus, son of Hypnos, the God of Sleep? Cool.)

As for long term illnesses, I'm going to focus on purely medical ones, rather than long term issues involving addiction itself.

Many injection drug users do not use sterile technique and may share needles with other drug users. This has several consequences.

1) Heart problems. The dirty needle can "drag" bacteria living on the skin's surface into the blood stream. These types of skin bacteria have a penchant for infecting the valves heart. This infection is called endocarditis, and can gradually or acutely cause valve problems. A past heroin user might have damaged valves from a past endocarditis infection, which could later put them at risk for another endocarditis infection (say, after dental surgery), or heart failure (symptoms include shortness of breath, tiredness and fatigue, leg swelling and fluid build up in the lungs).

2) Hepatitis. Hepatitis B and C are blood-borne viruses that are easily transmitted via shared needles with an infected person. Both can cause cirrhosis of the liver (liver scarring and poor function) and eventual liver failure, as well as liver cancer. Symptoms of cirrhosis include fatigue, yellowing of the eyes, wasting of muscles, an enlarged abdomen from fluid in the belly cavity, reddish palms and little, spidery blood vessels on the skin, and occasional confusion. They can also have problems with vomiting blood or rectal bleeding.

3) HIV. The human immunodeficiency virus can be transmitted for the same reason hepatitis is. Carriers may be completely asymptomatic until the virus kills off enough of one of the body's natural infection fighting cells (the T-cells). When that happens (the lapse time can vary widely--2 week to 20 years), certain infections can take the opportunity to attack the individual (called opportunistic infections, or OIs). This is when the diagnosis of AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome) occurs. These OIs include herpes, thrush (yeast in the throat), tuberculosis, and pneumonias, among others. They are also at risk of certain cancers, including lymphomas and Kaposi's sarcoma. Luckily, there are excellent anti-viral medications available today that are effective in controlling the virus, though there still is no cure or effective vaccine.

Okay, this post is getting way too long and I am getting flashbacks of working on the inpatient HIV/AIDS ward from my training. Whew.

There is a quote from the movie "The Crow" that is oddly fitting to close here, especially since yesterday was Mother's Day. The paranormal hunk a.k.a the Crow a.k.a Brandon Lee, says to an absentee mom/drug addict:

"Mother is the word for God on the lips and hearts of all children. Heroin is bad for you. There's a little girl on the streets, waiting for her mother."

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice.

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer.

56 comments:

mooderino said...

Very interesting and enlightening.
cheers,
mood
Chapter One Analysis: The Hunger Games

salarsenッ said...

I didn't know about the Greek connecting to naming Heroin. Huh?? Thanks for sharing.

Laura Pauling said...

Just a little sad. Everything comes back to the Greek and Romans! :)

Vicki Rocho said...

I find it funny that the slang terms are contradictory white, black, brown. LOL. I didn't realize it was a synthetic form of morphine, though. I always learn something!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Very interesting. Thanks, Lydia.

Melissa said...

I love how things from ancient times (like the name of a god) affects words and names for things today. It's so cool to see the ripple effect through history. Also, yikes! All the long term illnesses from Heroin - just another reason why we should avoid drugs!

Sarah said...

Great post, Lydia. As always, thorough and useful.

Jessica Bell said...

Sadly, I only found out recently about it being named after Morpheus. Something I really should have known! :o) Great post.

Emily Rose said...

The mythology piece is so interesting! It's really sad what drugs do to you.

lbdiamond said...

Oh gosh, I am very familiar with this myself, working with HIV patients and such.

Nice post!

Anne Gallagher said...

It's so sad what addictions can lead to. Thanks for enlightening us again, Lydia.

Connie said...

Really sad. I must have been so difficult to work with drug addicts, knowing where they were headed and how hard it is to help.

D. U. Okonkwo said...

This is both sad and scary, but not surprising. Whenever natural things are turned into something negative to give us a superficial high, the consequences are always dire.

Karen Lange said...

This is sad, but part of the real world...thanks for the info, Lydia.

Emy Shin said...

Thank you -- this is very fascinating, if a bit sad.

Carol Kilgore said...

Wonderful post. Hope you had a great Mother's Day.

Bossy Betty said...

Yikes.

Talei said...

Awesome info! I love your blog as its different and provides such insight into the medical world and we writers need access! ;-) Cheers!

notesfromnadir said...

Wow, what a destructive drug. So much suffering comes from taking it. Good quote -- I need to watch that movie again.

J.L. Campbell said...

You kinda wonder why people use when the dangers far outweigh the 'feel good' that you get from a drug high.

Munk said...

Med Mondays... Always good for a laugh.
Ick.

Olga said...

I have never really thought about the medical properties of heroin. This subject is really scary. I'm really glad you made this post, because it's important to keep reminding about the effects of this drug.

Saumya said...

So cool! Always love your Medical Mondays. We were told last week that we need to learn all of the street names for various drugs so there's no confusion when a patient names them.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Great post, Lydia. Had heard of Heroin users getting heart problems, HIV and Hepatitis. Wonder why people use the drug, when it has so many side effects.

LisaAnn said...

What a great post! Thanks for sharing... I will definitely keep you in mind for my future medical questions! :)

Laurel Garver said...

Thanks again for your thorough answer to my questions! It was especially helpful to know that most of the lasting effects for someone who goes clean are physiological rather than cognitive. You rock, Lydia!!

Talli Roland said...

God, that's a terrible drug, isn't it? Thank you for all the info.

Matthew MacNish said...

Oh man! Such scary stuff. Great quote from The Crow, though! What an awesome, but tragic, movie.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Most enlightening, on a day I spent the morning having pre cancerous cells of the cervix removed. Not nice at all.

Yvonne.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Wonder if they mention these things (not the cool greek mythology part) in DARE class? They should!

Kelly said...

I always wonder how someone could try something like heroin knowing all the bad stuff that comes with it!
I read the Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue and Sixx AM bassist)a few years ago. Actual diary entries of when he was addicted and afterwards. Bad news!

M Pax said...

I don't think I could ever use a needle on myself. I found it hard enough giving insulin shots to my diabetic cat.

Donna Hole said...

I didn't know that about the heart disease.

A good question.

......dhole

Linda Gray said...

Wonderful post with lots of great detail, Lydia, thanks. (And yes, I did know about Morpheus and morphine, but did not realize Morpheus' dad was the God of Sleep. Cool is right!)

Jennifer Hillier said...

Very enlightening to look at the effects from a strictly physiological perspective. Great post!

Old Kitty said...

What a very sobering post! Our bodies have enough to deal with without such abuse too!! Take care
x

Jai Joshi said...

I love that quote from The Crow!

*sigh*

Brandon Lee.

*sigh*

Great post about heroin. It's truly a horrific thing to be addicted too.

Jai

Roland D. Yeomans said...

As a former drug abuse counselor, I know all too well the heartbreak and the medical chaos brought on my heroin addiction. And I have always loved that THE CROW quote. I would have been here sooner, but I put in an 18 hour straight day yesterday. I thought they outlawed slavery? But not in the health profession -- those hours are all too demanding. But you know that, Roland

The Red Angel said...

I took a Forensics course and Psychology course in high school, and I remember learning about drugs--particularly heroin!

Very interesting to learn more about this drug...makes me sad to think about all the addicts out there though. :(

Sorry I haven't popped in for so long! I just had my final exams. :]

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Holly Ruggiero said...

Very informative even though it is so sad.

Cold As Heaven said...

The gods are to be blamed, as always.

Interesting post >:)

Cold As Heaven

Sailor said...

Pretty scary and sad story! No No NO!

Chris Phillips said...

Are we SURE this ? is for her writing?

Susan Fields said...

Very informative post! It's too bad you had to see so much of this firsthand. And what a great quote from The Crow.

Colene Murphy said...

Sad sad. :( But very informative!

Nas Dean said...

A very interesting post on heroin...I mean we all know what it is. But the post was very informative.

Alleged Author said...

It seems as though heart problems are caused by everything! Just learned that big drinkers have heart problems, too (not from personal experience though...whew!).

The Words Crafter said...

I didn't know about dragging bacteria, wow. The rest I was pretty familiar with because of research here and there.

I LOVE that quote from the Crow.

Fascinating stuff. And sad....

Jill said...

This is a great blog! I'm glad I stumbled on it. I'm going to have to search your archives.

LTM said...

Wow! Two Crow refs in one day... maybe I will rewatch that one. This is a great question I can SO see ending up in a book. Laurel's great.

Now I'm wondering about other drugs... Like XTC, Cocaine, LSD... it was all very chemical romance when I was in HS. I was one of the few just say no kids~ <3

Theresa Milstein said...

Ugh. So no worth it to do heroin, is it?

Angela Felsted said...

Wow, Lydia. That quote just broke my heart.

Jonene Ficklin said...

So interesting! That's enough to scare anyone straight.

Heather said...

That beautiful quote from THE CROW has haunted me since I first saw the movie, as has the late and fantastic Brandon Lee. A poignant post, loved it!

Jack Edwards Poetry said...

Very interesting post.

Medeia Sharif said...

What a powerful quote you used! I love that movie.

This was interesting, yet saddening.

 
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