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Risks of Snorting Heroin

heroinThe practice of inhaling heroin through the nose, also known as snorting, has increased in popularity since the 1990s as the availability of pure, powdered heroin has grown in prevalence. To snort heroin, users take a powdered form of the drug and inhale it through the nose, often using a straw or rolled-up paper like a dollar bill. Heroin that is less pure, and that therefore doesn’t transform to powder form as easily, can also be dissolved in water and shot into the nose using the barrel of a syringe. The nose and lungs are lined with tiny blood vessels where the heroin can cling and become absorbed, a process that takes about five minutes, according to the Journal of Analytical Toxicology. From there, the bloodstream shuttles the heroin to the brain, producing a rush or high.

Why Do People Snort Heroin?

Of the various methods of using heroin, snorting is the easiest, making it more appealing than other methods of use. Smoking and injecting heroin both require specific paraphernalia, such as a syringe, lighter or pipe, which may be difficult to obtain or conspicuous to carry around. Smoking and injecting the drug also deliver heroin to the brain much faster and therefore accumulate in larger doses more quickly, making the potential for addiction higher. Injection is particularly dangerous, as it can damage blood vessels and carries the risk of transferring diseases like HIV and hepatitis through contaminated needles. Additionally, these other methods of using heroin, particularly injection, carry a high social stigma. Heroin users looking to avoid this stigma, the increased risk of addiction, and the damage from injection may choose to snort their heroin instead. All heroin use carries risks, and snorting heroin is no exception.

The Dangers of Snorting Heroin

Research in Forensic Science international found that although overdose risk for snorting and smoking heroin was lower than for injecting heroin, both methods still carry “a considerable risk of lethal outcome.” The amount of the drug that accumulates in each person’s bloodstream can vary greatly, making the risks harder to manage. Additionally, people who snort heroin are more likely to be casual users, whose tolerance will drop in between episodes of use, making them more vulnerable to overdose when they resume use again. Although snorting heroin delivers the drug to the brain more slowly than other ways, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) confirms that heroin in any form is still highly addictive. Heroin changes the way the brain processes reward no matter what way it’s used, and its addictive properties still hold. Snorting also paves the path for more serious heroin use. A NIDA report found that over 15 percent of people who used heroin with non-injected methods transitioned to injection over the course of one year. Repeated snorting of heroin also causes irritation and inflammation of the soft mucous membranes in the nose, especially if the heroin is laden with impurities. Over time, this inflammation can lead to tissue damage, and it can even result in perforation of the nasal septum (making a hole in the wall that separates the two sides of the nose), NIDA reports. The picture is even more dangerous for people who have asthma, per a study of intensive care unit (ICU) visits in Clinical Investigations in Critical Care. When people with severe asthma use heroin, they can have asthma attacks that are dangerous enough to result in hospitalization.

It’s Time for a Change

If you or a loved one has developed a problem with snorting heroin, we can help. At Futures of Palm Beach, we offer a full spectrum of programs from medical detox to integrated treatment, with options customized to meet the needs of each individual. You’ll work closely with our expert therapists to get the help you need. Call us today to learn more about the path to recovery.

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