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The History of Heroin Treatments
Heroin has reached epidemic proportions throughout the United States, and many young users prefer the drug. Between heroin and other opiates, the number of deaths associated with these drugs has reached staggering proportions. Ever since heroin’s arrival in the late 1870s, it has been the drug of choice by artists, poets, musicians, and the common person. It’s an incredibly addictive drug; treatment is difficult and often requires a long-term commitment. As the recovery process is long, varied, and involves severe withdrawal symptoms, researchers continue to find new ways to treat heroin addiction.
Discovery of Heroin
While opium has been around since ancient times, it wasn’t until Charles Romley Alder Wright isolated the morphine molecule and added two acetyl groups (acetic anhydride and anhydrous morphine alkaloid) to the base in 1874 that heroin was created. Though C.R. Wright had created the formula, it wasn’t until Felix Hoffmann, who worked for the Bayer Company (known then as Aktiengesellschaft Farbenfabriken) as a research chemist, further developed heroin in 1897 that the drug began to reach the masses. Once the formula was established, heroin became a common pharmaceutical drug that manufacturers sold over the counter and marketed towards all age groups, including children. Heroin was sold in cough medicine as a pain reliever and sleep inducer. Sigmund Freud touted its effects, but before long, its addictive properties would be realized. By 1914, America passed legislation to govern the sale of heroin.
First Heroin Treatments
Methadone was first used to treat narcotic addiction in the 1960s. The drug was invented in 1937 as a pain reliever but was used to treat addiction after an outbreak of heroin addiction in the United States. By 1971, methadone use in treating heroin addiction was widespread. In addition to methadone, there is buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is sold under the brand names Subtext and Suboxone and is used for heroin addiction in other countries besides the United States. Buprenorphine is a powerful weapon in the fight against heroin addiction, as it prevents users from feeling the effects of heroin or other opiates should they use them after taking the medication.
Evolution of Heroin Treatments
Heroin treatments continue to evolve, and the United States does not institute the same methods of treatment as other countries. Medication-assisted treatment is a popular method used in the United States, where drugs such as methadone or buprenorphine are administered to addicts. Countries such as Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Germany practice heroin-assisted treatment. Because heroin addiction is associated with risky behavior and the spread of communicable diseases such as HIV and STDs, those who practice heroin-assisted treatment find that professionally administered, regulated doses of heroin helps manage the addiction. Crime rates have decreased in these countries, and so has the spread of disease. At this time, heroin-assisted treatment is not a common practice in the United States.
On October 12, 2010, the FDA approved the drug naltrexone for treatment in heroin addiction. Naltrexone is marketed as Vivitrol and is an injectable drug that a health care provider administers to the addict. As with other drugs used to treat heroin addiction, naltrexone carries a number of side effects. Naltrexone users should not take opioids or heroin when beginning naltrexone, or else they will experience negative withdrawal symptoms. Researchers are continually searching for new methods to treat recovering heroin addicts.
Holistic Heroin Treatments
In addition to medication-assisted treatments, holistic heroin treatments and therapies are a popular choice. These include behavioral therapy, group therapy, residential treatment, and individual and family counseling. Since the brain has opioid receptors, heroin addicts are conditioned on a reward/pleasure basis that activates these areas of the brain. It isn’t enough to just abstain from heroin or begin a course of medication-assisted treatment, but addicts need to rewire their brains. Many emotional triggers cause heroin addicts to turn to the drug, and these need to be addressed. Addicts must learn other methods for dealing with emotional issues and stress rather than turning to heroin. All forms of therapy have been shown to help with addiction.
Heroin Treatments in the Future
Heroin treatments are continually developed, and researchers are embarking on new methods for treating addicts. A vaccine against heroin is currently in development. The vaccine aims to trick the body into believing the drug is a foreign invader that the immune system attacks and prevents from reaching the brain. The vaccine wouldn’t be a cure-all but part of a complete treatment system. The hope is that a vaccine would prevent large numbers of heroin users who relapse. Many addicts who relapse binge and increase their rate of overdosing. Other methods researchers are working on include heroin-assisted therapy and newer, more comprehensive drugs to treat addicts.