Heroin- an Equal Opportunity Destroyer

The following article was written by my friend, Dr. Stephen Sroka who has given me permission to republish it. It originally appeared in Youthteen Magazine.

Heroin- an Equal Opportunity Destroyer By Stephen Sroka

  1. US. Attorney General Eric Holder has called the rise in overdose deaths from heroin and other prescription painkillers an “urgent public health crisis.” According to CDC, one in five high school students has taken prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription. Heroin abuse often begins with prescription opiate abuse.

Heroin is truly an equal opportunity destroyer. Addiction to heroin and other opiates (such as oxycodone, Oxycotin, Percocet and Vicodin) is impacting the lives of Americans in every state- in the urban cities, the suburbs and the rural areas. Heroin overdose deaths have increased 55% between 2000 and 2010.

What is heroin?

Heroin is a drug that comes the opium poppy plant. It is much cheaper than using illegal prescription opiates. It can be injected, smoked, or snorted. Users develop a tolerance. It is very addictive. Heroin binds to receptors in the brain to give the euphoric rush, but also suppresses breathing that can be fatal. Two recent heroin deaths included Cory Monteith, the Glee star, and actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

What can you do to protect your teen?

Eric Holder has said regarding heroin prevention, “The most effective efforts are those that begin at home. Parent’s and families can raise awareness about the devastating consequences of opiate abuse”

Here are some tips for parents

Denial is Huge.

After a heroin or opioid death, it is often heard, “I cannot believe that it can happen here.” As we have learned, heroin can happen anywhere. Saying, “Not my kid or my community” is like wearing blinders. There is not one parent anywhere that this can’t happen to.

This is a complex issue.

We cannot arrest our way out of the heroin/opioid addiction problem. We need education, prevention, intervention, incarceration, treatment and health policy changes. There is no quick fix. After you have done all that you can, you pray.

Education is key.

You need to educate yourself. You need to educate your teen. You need to be involved in your teen’s home life, social life, school life and community life. You need to be a good role model.

Studies have shown that the cycle of heroin abuse commonly begins with prescription opiate abuse. The use of opioids for pain needs to be taken very seriously. Check your medicine chest. If you have prescription pain killer pills that are no longer being used, it is suggested that you deposit them in a secured prescription drug drop box.

Signs of heroin abuse.

Heroin users are seldom honest about use. Lying and stealing are frequent behaviors.

Paraphernalia may include syringes, pipes, and belts or tubing.

Symptoms may include dry mouth, flushed skin, constricted pupils, impaired mental functioning, nodding out, and breathing slow.

Other symptoms may include itching, nausea, vomiting and constipation.

Should you snoop?

This is a sensitive area for teens, but if you have suspicions and you suspect, you might inspect. Trust, but verify.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a complex medical issue, not a moral issue. Scientific evidence suggests that substance abuse causes changes in the brain that makes it difficult for individuals to stop using. Treatment can help curb these behaviors. Addiction is a brain disease. It is a misconception that drug dependence is a voluntary behavior and moral failure. No one starts off saying,” I want to be an addict and live a life of pain.” Addiction can be diagnosed and can be treated. Treatment makes a difference. Recovery makes a life.

Steps to take if you suspect heroin abuse and finding treatment.

Be prepared, not scared. Learn all you can about heroin. Have a plan for action. The first step is to find a health professional that can provide an assessment.

A treatment locator for your area is found at the SAMHSA website at

Drug use is often associated with mental health concerns, and mental health issues must also be addressed.

Quick action for heroin overdoses can save lives.

The use of naloxone, or Narcan, by first responders can reverse the effects of an overdose if administrated early enough. About 80% of heroin users inject with partners, but about 80% are found dead, alone, Some states are changing laws that allow family and friends to administer naloxone, which can be injected or by nasal spray. It is easy to use, but must be prescribed. It can save lives, but you still must call for medical help.

Teens need the 3 F’s and the 3 H’s to help protect them.

Research suggests that students need these protective factors: a family who loves them, even if it is not a biological family; friends, who will pull them up, not down; and faith, a moral compass, a sense of right and wrong. My experiences suggest that teens crave honesty, enjoy sensitive humor, and want hope.

My 5 Step Mantra for Heroin Prevention.

  1. Don’t start.
  2. If you do, get help as soon as you can.
  3. You don’t do heroin, heroin does you.
  4. Heroin is the best feeling you will ever have, until you don’t have it, and then it is the worst feeing you will ever have.
  5. Don’t start.

And most importantly, you as the parent have the Power of One to make a difference.

  1. Learn all you can about heroin.
  2. Help one another (helping others is the best way to help yourself).
  3. Tell the people that you love, you love them today. There are no guarantees about tomorrow with heroin.

For more information:

 Growing Up Drug Free A Parent’s Guide to Prevention is available from the Drug Enforcement Administration at


The Opiate Effect, an award-winning documentary for parents and teens about the dangers and realities of opiate abuse.

© 2014 Stephen R. Sroka, PhD, Lakewood, Ohio. Used with permission.

Stephen Sroka, PhD, is an adjunct assistant professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the president of Health Education Consultants. He is an award-winning educator, author and internationally recognized speaker. He has keynoted the DEA’s Red Ribbon Kick Off Ceremony in Washington, DC, and will keynote the International DARE Conference in Dallas this summer. He has worked with at-risk youth issues worldwide for more than 30 years. He is a member of the Cuyahoga County, OH, Heroin Task Force. Connect with Sroka on his website or by e-mail at [email protected]