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Addiction: Why heroin?


In the 1960s, society was not as open as it is today. Everyone at school knew there were kids who “experimented,” but nobody talked about it, and certainly people did not approach other students they were sure would not want to “try it.” With the eruption of rebellion against “the establishment” and protests against the Vietnam War came more public awareness of drug use.

An article at, “Decades of Drug Use: Data From the ‘60s and ‘70s,” advises, “The 1960s brought us tie-dye, sit-ins, and fears of large-scale drug use. Hippies smoked marijuana, kids in ghettos pushed heroin and Timothy O’Leary, a Harvard professor, urged the world to try LSD.” But closer to the truth is the fact that drug abuse was rare, not rampant. And what kids were told was not always accurate.

A couple of years ago the Washington Post published information about the shifting demographics of drug abuse from the 1960s to the 2000s as discovered by Theodore Cicero, vice chairman of research at Washington University School of Medicine showing that:

  • In the 1960s, 82.8 percent of heroin users were men. These days there is an equal rate of men and women seeking treatment.
  • In the 1960s, the rate of white heroin users seeking treatment was 40 percent. By 2010, the numbers raised to 90.3 percent.
  • In the 1960s, the mean age of those seeking treatment was 16.5 years in the 1960s. In 2010, the age was 22.9 years old.

The use of heroin spread out of the ghettos and into suburbia, forcing people to see and accept that it isn’t just criminals and social outcasts who suffer from addiction. Heroin isn’t new or recently new. It is an opioid drug made from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant.

Opiates are used medically for pain relief. These dependency-producing drugs depress the central nervous system, advises Cheryle Herr, a Family Recovery Center counselor and drug free workplace educator. Common signs and symptoms of heroin use are shortness of breath, dry mouth, constricted (small) pupils, sudden changes in behavior or actions, disorientation, cycles of hyper alertness followed by suddenly nodding off and droopy appearance, as if the extremities are heavy.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that in 2011, 4.2 million Americans aged 12 or older had used heroin at least once in their lives. About 23 percent of those who try heroin
become addicted to it. Often, prescription opioid pain medications like Oxycontin and Vicodin are a first step to heroin use.

Heroin enters the brain, is converted to morphine and rapidly binds to opioid receptors. The reaction to it depends on how much is used and how fast it hits the brain. The rush affects automatic processes critical for life, like blood pressure, respiration, and arousal. Overdoses slow breathing and heart function that may result in brain damage, coma or death. Dependence on heroin is strong and severe withdrawal symptoms set in: restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, and kicking movements.

Many times individuals who are prescribed opioid medications for legitimate pain become addicted to the medication. The pharmaceutical industry reformulated Oxycontin so it can’t be abused like before. But heroin has been on the rise for a long while because it gives similar effects, it’s cheap and easy to get.

How does heroin addiction recovery work? We will talk about that in the next few weeks.

Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues. For more information contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail,

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