Heroin Epidemic in Utah

Utah is a beautiful state full of protected parks, diverse wildlife and plenty of sunshine. However, this beautiful vacation destination for adventurers across the nation holds a very dark secret. The illegal use of heroin has become an epidemic in Utah, and many lives are ending in tragedy as a result of this powerful and dangerous drug.

What Is Heroin?

In order to understand how to fight this alarming epidemic, it is important to understand heroin and how it takes such a powerful hold on users in such a short amount of time. Derived from morphine, a substance found in the seed pods of specific types of poppies, heroin is extremely addictive and its purest forms can be easily ingested through smoking or snorting. Impure heroin is typically dark in color and is usually injected.

Many people are drawn to heroin because it causes feelings of pleasure and well-being. It does so by binding to and activating mu-opioid receptors in the brain that are responsible for regulating pain, feelings of contentment and the release of hormones. When heroin activates mu-opioid receptors in the brain, they in turn release dopamine and flood the body and mind with a sensation of pleasure.

How Big Is the Heroin Problem in Utah?

Research has shown an alarming spike in heroin use in Utah over the past 10 years. The CDC reported in 2013 that Utah has the eighth highest mortality rate due to drug overdosing in the United States. Nearly 17 people out of every 100,000 in the state die from drug overdose. This rate is 59 percent higher than it was in 1999.

In Salt Lake County, the Utah Department of Health reported that 230 people died from heroin use between the years 2008–2012. During the same period, there were 80 deaths in Utah County due to heroin.

Heroin addicts in Utah are becoming younger as well. Approximately 1 in 5 people who are admitted into substance abuse centers in Utah are between the ages of 18–23. Many heroin addicts start out purchasing and then abusing prescription opiates such as Oxytocin. Due to the high cost of these prescription drugs, many people turn to heroin to get the same high because it is much more affordable.

Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use

Heroin causes a variety of negative effects on the minds and bodies of its users. These effects vary, depending on the individual and the level of their drug abuse habits. Common short-term effects of heroin use include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Severe itching
  • Flushed skin
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Decreased mental function
  • Nausea
  • Depressed breathing
  • Decreased ability to feel pain and respond to dangerous stimuli

Some of these short-term effects can be life-threatening. In some cases, breathing can slow down so significantly that it causes the heroin user to fall into a coma, suffer permanent brain damage or die.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use

The long-term effects of heroin use are even more nefarious than the short-term effects and can actually change the user’s physical brain structure. Over time, users become more dependent on the drug due to serious imbalances that long-term use causes in their hormonal and neuronal systems. Long-term effects of heroin use include:

  • Deterioration of white matter in the brain
  • Decreased ability to make decisions and respond to stress
  • Serious hormonal and neuronal imbalances
  • Changes to the physiology of the brain
  • Physical dependence on the drug
  • Increased tolerance levels that require the user to take more of the drug in order to achieve the same “high”
  • Painful withdrawal symptoms when drug use is discontinued
  • Chronic addiction

When a person becomes addicted to heroin, they will do almost anything to obtain the drug. As a result, they often sacrifice relationships with friends and family in an effort to secure the money necessary to feed their addiction.

How to Find Help

There are a variety of treatment options available for heroin addicts in Utah, including medications and behavioral recovery centers. Many addicts find the most success in overcoming their addictions when they utilize both types of available treatment options. Drug treatment centers typically assess the patient’s individual needs and then build a customized treatment plan that will give each addict the greatest chance at overcoming their addiction.

Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA) focuses on helping recovering drug addicts find local resources that can aid them in achieving long-term recovery and sobriety.

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