source: UN, The World Youth Report 2003,
Rates of heroin use by injection tend to be relatively low among school-age youth…
Sharing syringes and other equipment for drug injection is a well-known route of HIV transmission…
- limited information is available concerning trends in heroin use by young people. According to a 1999 UN report, the highest rate of heroin use among youth is in Europe. In Denmark, Greece, Ireland and Italy, 2% of youth (age 15-16) report having used heroin at lease once in their lives;
- injection of heroin is increasing among youth in Eastern Europe;
a survey conducted in 2002 in the United States by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 1.8% of students (aged 15-16) have used heroin at least once;
- 4.3% of Australian students aged 15-16 years recently reported using opiates;
there are signs of a rise in abuse of heroin by smoking (United States and Western Europe). Heroine use by smoking rates tend to be around 5-8% among senior high school students in Eastern Europe (Latvia, Poland, and Romania)*.
- recent reports point to concerns with heroin use by some groups of vulnerable youth, including young offenders, school dropouts and homeless young people. For example, 22% of a sample of 11-17-year-olds detained by police in Australia between 1999 and 2002 reported having used opiates (including heroin).
What are the effects?
- recent statistics show that in 2003, HIV infection associated with Injection drug use (IDU) transmission has been reported in more than 130 countries. In some countries in Asia and Central and Eastern Europe, IDU is now the main mode of transmission of HIV.
- worldwide, 11% of AIDS cases are estimated to be due to drug users injecting with dirty needles - particularly heroin addicts. In the United States, it has been estimated that 1/3 of all AIDS cases are – directly or indirectly - linked to injection drug use.
The drug creates a profound degree of tolerance and physical dependence to the point at which addicts have only one purpose in life - to satisfy their heroin craving. These feelings are a result of the drug's opiate effect, which detaches the user from pain, anxiety, and desires for food and sex. In the short term, the opiate effect leads to an inability to concentrate, apathy and drowsiness. One of the most noticeable effects is on the pupils of the eye, which become pinpoints as the drug causes them to contract.
Long term effects rear their ugly head after repeated use. Users develop a physical and psychological dependence and as they learn to tolerate heroin their body craves more to achieve the original intensity and effect. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins because they have injected too often, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, cellulites and liver disease. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin may have additives that do not dissolve in the blood stream which can result in the blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys and brain becoming clogged up. This in turn can lead to life-threatening infections.
The use of heroin is causing widespread health and social problems in many countries. In Europe heroin injectors who regularly consume large amounts of different drugs, face a risk of death, which may be 20 to 30 times higher than non-drug users in the same age range. Since heroin is commonly used by injecting, the health risks including that of HIV and hepatitis transmission, are substantial.
* These are the highest rates in Europe.