There is no corner of the world that is free from problems with heroin usage. Asia, North America, Australia, Europe -- it's everywhere. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, there are between 12 and 21 million users of opiates around the world with heroin being used in about 75 percent of cases. That means that it is likely that there are approximately 13 million heroin users in the world. In 2009, it was estimated that heroin users consumed 375 metric tons of the drug.
In Asia, the majority of heroin consumption takes place in China, Pakistan, Iran and India. In the Americas, the US is the biggest consumer and in Europe, Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy, France are key heroin-using countries. In Africa, most users are located in East, West and Central Africa.
The use of heroin, by itself, presents dangers to every user in the form of the risk of overdose and exposure to adulterants and contaminants. But a person addicted to heroin often suffers from many related conditions, including diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV from shared needles, risky sex or prostitution, health conditions resulting from poor personal care or neglect of diet, and criminal activities committed so the addict can acquire more heroin. Heroin is not a long-lasting drug so every addict must make sure they have a steady supply -- more than one dose per day -- to keep the sickness of withdrawal away.
One of the tragedies of heroin addiction and treatment is that so many people who are addicted are resistive to efforts to help them recover. Simply helping the person get through withdrawal and get back on their feet has not been enough to help them stay clean for the long term. Heroin users relapse so consistently that other forms of treatment were sought.
Methadone began to be used as a heroin replacement thirty years ago. Addicts must report to a methadone treatment center daily and get a single dose of the long-lasting opiate. Buprenorphine was another opioid that was added to treatment options in the last decade. Both drugs are now drugs of abuse and illicit addiction as well as being used for treatment.
Then other methods of "harm reduction" began to be implemented. In Canada, England, Netherlands and other countries, supervised injection sites, also referred to as "clean rooms," began to be established to try to save those who would otherwise overdose and die alone or react to contaminants. Medical staff are available to provide any needed care. In some areas, there is also an effort to transfer those who sign up for service in these rooms to treatment programs, but it is not required.
But some people even failed to respond to these types of care. They would return to heroin use and a hazardous, unhealthy lifestyle.
In some people's opinion, the only option left was the administration of heroin itself. And this began to be a treatment option in Switzerland in the 1990s. Admittedly, Switzerland had a terrible and highly visible heroin addiction problem that proved recalcitrant. As a method of reducing the harm done by heroin addiction, a pharmaceutical grade of heroin began to be administered to heroin addicts who had consistently failed at other treatment methods.
After heroin users showed they had fewer health problems and committed fewer crimes, Heroin-Assisted Treatment (HAT) spread to Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany and, the UK.
The rationale behind HAT is that it might be a better solution than just letting heroin addicts be criminals or die. But its compassion falls far short. Effective treatment is available for addicts of opiate drugs. Even long-term heroin addicts can be returned to a clean, sober and productive lifestyle. It happens every week, around the world, at Narconon drug rehabilitation centers.
At Narconon centers, those who have spent years or even decades addicted to heroin are first supported through a withdrawal process that for many, is tolerable and for all is far more comfortable than earlier experiences. Using minerals like calcium and magnesium, B vitamins and other supplements, Narconon staff help these addicts come off heroin with a minimum of physical discomfort. Gentle reorientation exercises and physical assists further calm the recovering addict and help him see that he is in a safe place where he will be able to recover his health.
Once this step is thoroughly done, each addict goes on to a further -- and more thorough -- detoxification action. Using a low-heat sauna, vitamins, minerals and moderate exercise, each person in recovery is closely supervised through a process that flushes out drug toxins that remain in the fatty tissues of the body long after drug use has ceased. If left untouched, these residues could be involved in the triggering of cravings after the person leaves rehabilitation. When this phase of recovery is complete, most people say that their drug cravings are greatly reduced. Some people even say they are gone.
When the sparkle returns to a person's eyes and when they feel alive again, free from a toxic load of drug residues, she is in much better shape to address the life issues that caused her to start using drugs in the first place.
Narconon staff know—because they see it every day—that recovery from opiate or heroin addiction is possible. Leaving a person dependent on opiates, whether they be illicit or pharmaceutical, when real recovery is possible is nothing less than cruelty. Heroin addicts are welcome to come to any of the Narconon centers located on six continents and find a sober life free from the chains of any type of addiction or addictive treatment.