Dope. China White. Black Tar. Nod. H.
Heroin probably has as many nicknames as it does side effects. This extremely potent and highly addictive drug kills more than 11,000 people in the U.S. each year. How? It threatens every system in your body. Once heroin enters your bloodstream, it quickly goes to work and attacks your body, quite literally, from head to toe.
The dangers heroin poses are many, but let’s look at seven of the list-toppers:
- Teeth: Heroin use can cause you to involuntarily grind your teeth, resulting in structural damage over time. The drug also causes dry mouth, which is a serious oral health problem. Saliva neutralizes acids that can erode your teeth and forms a protective barrier against bacteria in the mouth. With dry mouth, the bacteria sticks around and quickly breaks down tooth enamel. The result is rotten teeth and swollen gums.
- Heart: Heroin tells your body systems to slow down. It can cause your blood pressure to dip significantly, causing your heart to to stop beating. Or your heart may beat irregularly (called arrhythmia), making it impossible to pump the right amount of blood to the rest of your organs. Bacteria in heroin can also cause infection in the heart (endocarditis), which results in tissue death. One way or another, heroin always hurts the heart.
- Lungs: Heroin’s effect on the lungs is often the cause of death during an overdose. Since heroin slows down breathing, too much of the drug can cause you to stop breathing entirely. Lung diseases are also common among heroin users. Scarred air passages, tuberculosis, pneumonia and abscesses occur frequently.
- Liver and Kidneys: Your liver and kidneys process the substances you put into your body. Injecting heroin (a toxic substance) makes these organs work harder and can damage their tissues. Also, when heroin enters your system, it brings with it contaminants and additives that can clog the blood vessels to these organs. The end result is liver and/or kidney disease.
- Stomach: Heroin frequently causes nausea and vomiting. Not only is this unpleasant, but it can lead to dehydration and malnutrition. If using heroin causes you to pass out, vomiting also becomes a life-threatening choking hazard.
- Intestines: Opioids (the family of drugs to which heroin belongs) often cause constipation. Heroin use can create gastrointestinal problems such as chronic constipation or bowel obstruction.
- Skin: Intense itching is a common side effect of heroin use. You may feel like bugs are crawling on or under your skin. This usually results in damaged skin, as users frequently scratch themselves. Combined with the immune-suppression heroin causes, it’s easy for these scratches to become infected.