Teen Challenge Letter
While searching your site for an address to which I sent my last letter, I came upon your heroin information pages. These pages contain some valuable information. There are two important problems with the pages, however: there is a great deal of misinformation in the pages and some of the text actually romanticizes heroin use which I think is not your intent. I am more concerned with the former issue, but I will touch on the latter in this letter. Below are quotes from your web pages and the HEROIN helper response.
- "Heroin ... is one of the most addictive drugs on earth."
- Heroin is not one of the most addictive drugs on earth. In terms of addiction potential, heroin is packed firmly in the upper middle of all drugs. Its reputation as being highly addictive comes from the fact that withdrawal from heroin--though not life threatening--is quite unpleasant. The best single gage of a drug's addictive potential is how reinforcing it is; that is, after taking the drug once, how inclined is a person to repeat the experience. Heroin is less reinforcing then nicotine, alcohol, and cocaine.
- "It is classified as a depressant"
- Heroin is not actually classified as a depressant; it is a narcotic analgesic. Although its primary effect is the decreasing of respiration and thus is calming, its effect on a user's behavior is not necessarily to decrease activity; some users do, in fact, become hyperactive when they use heroin.
- "Heroin may be smoked when in pure powder form."
- Heroin may be ingested in just about any way at all. When heroin was first made available to the public, it was sold as a cough drop. It is incorrect that only pure powder heroin can be smoked; all forms of heroin can be smoked. The same goes for snorting and injecting.
- "Addicts place a small amount of the heroin in a spoon."
- The second paragraph of this piece is curious because it reads more like a "how to" guide than anything. What is even more troubling is the instruction that beginners would use a half pea sized amount of heroin. Under most circumstances, this would be far too much for a beginning user. The statement that an "addict" places heroin in the spoon--the implication being that only addicts use heroin is absolutely false.
- "This [being able to smoke it] makes the use of heroin more acceptable to middle and upperclass [sic] students and business folk."
- The third paragraph shows a certain amount of economic bigotry when it claims that heroin used in the way cocaine is used is more acceptable to middle and upper class students and business people. People of all economic backgrounds are taught that being a junkie is bad, and all of them shun the syringe for this reason. Heroin use is not more acceptable to poor people.
- "133;the risk of becoming infected with the AIDS virus through the use of dirty needles."
- This is true, but currently three times as many people die from Hepatitis C each year. Hepatitis C is also a blood carried disease which is highly associated with unsterile injection technique.
- "Some of the long term physical conditions that accompany heroin addiction include ... lack of motivation when it comes to involvement with any activities other than those associated with obtaining [sic] their next 'fix'."
- To say that heroin causes addicts to have no motivations other than acquiring more heroin is to show a complete lack of understanding of the sociological situation that heroin addicts find themselves in. The Chinese opium addicts who helped to build the transcontinental railroad were able to work long and hard hours precisely because they used opium which made the pain and boredom of the work bearable. When heroin is legal and cheaply available, addicts live pretty much the same lives as everyone else. They are far more healthy and productive than alcohol and cigarette addicts, who they outlive by many years on average.
- "Those 'associated activities' include burglery [sic], robbery, prostitution..."
- It is true that heroin addicts commit a lot of property crime in order to support their habits. But this has nothing at all to do with the effects of the drug. This is an artificial situation created by the laws that make heroin illegal and thus very, very expensive.
- It should also be pointed out that most heroin addicts do not support their habits with illegal activities. Most heroin addicts have regular jobs which they use to support their habits. It is a great offense to all of these "hard working junkies" If you want to encourage young people to stay away from heroin, you might tell them that these people work very hard, only to have almost all of the money they earn go to supporting their drug habit which most likely doesn't even get them high anymore.
- "Those [cigarette burns] are a couple of the physical signs that might identify a heroin user."
- Heroin addicts spend very little time nodding because of their high tolerance to the drug. As a result, it is unlikely that one will find a heroin addict nodding; it is a good way to spot a novice user, however. Cigarette burns are associated with heavy alcohol consumption much more than they are with heroin use. The heroin "nod" is a light state of semi-sleep which is not compatible with activities such as driving which require acute attention. But it is also not a state that makes the user oblivious as do drugs such as alcohol and barbiturates.
- "... the most common site for injections are the main arteries located in the inner portion of the arm ..."
- Injections are never made into arteries. This web pages makes the mistake of using the words "arteries" and "veins" interchangeably. They are not the same. Injecting into an artery will cause tissue damage at the very least and can cause the loss of a limb or even death.
- "Soon the user is 'shooting up' more than once a day."
- Heroin users and addicts are as individual as anyone else. Exactly what course a person's heroin use will take cannot be said. Don't make the mistake of treating heroin use and addiction as a monolithic thing that is the same in all cases.
I hope you will make the changes that I have mentioned in letter. You owe it to your readers.
Heroin Helper, Managing Editor