Heroin Addiction and Holistic Drug Treatment - Heroin Drug Rehabilitation Programs and Treatment with a Holistic Approach By: John Giordano, CAP, MAC & Trina Geiss, MPH

June 7, 2004 -- Heroin is a highly addictive substance. It is both the most often abused and the fastest acting of all of the opiate drugs. Through all of the complications that may arise from heroin use and abuse, its use is on the rise. According to the 2000 Drug and Alcohol Services Information System (DASIS) report conducted through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), heroin was the leading illicit drug among substance abuse treatment admissions in 2000, and there is an increase in younger users.

Heroin is made from the processing of morphine, which is a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. It is usually sold as a white or brownish powder or as the black sticky substance known as โ€œblack tar heroin.โ€ Most street heroin is mixed or โ€œcutโ€ with other drugs or with substances such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. Street heroin can also be cut with strychnine or other poisons. Therefore, heroin users rarely know the actual strength and concentration or the added substances resulting in an increased risk for accidental overdose and/or death, and spontaneous abortion.

Chronic use is associated with collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, cellulitis, and liver disease. Pulmonary complications may develop including various types of pneumonia, which result from the poor health condition of the abuser, as well as from heroin's depressing effects on respiration. Injecting heroin also increases the risk of disease transmission such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C, thereby complicating the problem. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin may contain additives that do not dissolve into the blood stream resulting in clogged blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This may result in infection or even death of small patches of cells in vital organs eventually causing organ failure.

Heroin works by binding to specific receptors on neurons that are distributed throughout the central nervous system (CNS), the peripheral nervous system (PNS), and tissues of the immune system. These opioid receptors work in regulating responses to stress, pain, temperature, respiration, endocrine and gastrointestinal activity, mood, motivation, and others. Once these receptors are activated many intracellular changes take place, some of which is the development of tolerance (decreased response to the same concentration of the opioid at the receptor) and altered excitability (withdrawal) when the stimulus is removed after a period of receptor activation. The short-term effects of heroin use appear quickly after use and may last several hours. First there is a surge of euphoria, accompanied by skin flushing, dry mouth, and heavy extremities. Following this initial euphoria there is an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Mental functioning is clouded due to the depression of the central nervous system. Heroin has been proven to be extremely addictive due to the body's physical dependence on the substance developing after repeated use.

There are a variety of treatment methods available to reverse heroin dependence. However, most outcomes are poor, due to the strong physiological dependence on the drug. First the individual must enter detoxification to relieve withdrawal symptoms, after which, should be followed by long-term drug treatment. Traditional heroin addiction treatments typically rely upon pharmacotherapies. Their goals are to relieve the severity of withdrawal symptoms and to prevent relapse once abstinence has been initiated5.

One of the most commonly used of these is methadone treatment. Methadone is non-intoxicating and daily activities can be resumed, however it is addictive and may cause overdose. Others include naloxone and naltrexone, which block the effects of opiates; however naltrexone does have a higher rate of overdose. A newer medication for heroin addiction is buprenorphine, which has been shown to have a lower rate of overdose and physical dependence and can be distributed in an office-based setting3. However, once these medications are used in the place of heroin, the individual is never fully recovered from their addiction. In order to successfully overcome the power of opiate addiction, treatments that encompass the whole person holistically should be sought. These treatments truly allow the individual to be free from addiction.

With our current โ€˜detox' methods, failure occurs much more often than not and most people never make it to receive the type of treatment they need. This is because most of the individuals leaving detoxification centers are still drug affected, rendering them unable to make clear decisions about treatment programs and recovery options. In order to effectively combat this alarming and growing problem, alternative treatment methods must be explored. These should be used in conjunction with other therapies. Proper diet and nutrition consisting of vitamin C, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and sulfur proteins can have a very positive effect. Vitamin C is a very potent anti-oxidant and will help cleanse and destroy free radicals in the tissues. It also aids in intestinal motility, which is an important component of getting clean and sober. Amino acids, especially glutamine will stimulate the body's natural opiates and endorphins to help alleviate some cravings. Amino acids will also help to build healthy stores of neurotransmitters, depleted through drug use. Essential fatty acids such as flax oil in combination with foods containing sulfur proteins (cysteine or methionine) such as yogurt, eggs, codfish, sesame paste, garlic, and onions will allow fat soluble toxins to become water soluble for excretion through sweat and urine. In order to facilitate and expedite excretion of toxic substance perspiration must be enhanced. This should be done through rigorous exercise and steam therapy, such as a Turkish wet steam, a sauna, or a hot whirlpool bath, also through outdoor activity like beach outings. Following heavy perspiration, the individual should clean themselves with a high-fat soap to remove toxins excreted on the surface of the skin and prevent their reabsorption. A deep-tissue and lymphatic massage should also be given once per week to ease tension, and detoxify the muscle fibers.

Another area to consider when approaching detoxification from heroin is the colon. The colon is a major part of the excretory system, and is responsible for eliminating food and other body wastes, as well as protecting us from infection and disease. In a normal functioning colon, all this is achieved with the help of billions of friendly bacteria which inhabit the colon and make up some 70% of the dry weight of our fecal waste. However, the delicate balance of this internal ecosystem can very easily be disturbed by a number of factors including stress, pollution, poor food and drink choices, certain drugs, smoking and exposure to toxic substances. Receiving a colonic will remove the wastes built up in the lower intestine and will definitely aid in its ability to absorb proper nutrients as it will no longer be clogged with toxins.

One such complementary modality that is quite popular for a variety of functions is acupuncture therapy. Acupuncture is most widely used for its pain relieving properties through sensory stimulation1. More recently, acupuncture has been shown to successfully treat depression4,6. The relief acupuncture causes works through local tissue healing effect and central anti-stress mechanisms1. Acupuncture detoxification therapy uses the application of acupuncture needles to the ear, also called auricular acupuncture. These points target different bodily functions and organs. The effects witnessed on the individual include relaxation, decreased anxiety and restlessness, reduced perspiration, intestinal cramps, watery eyes, and sneezing. It also aids in the excretion of toxic substances for a speedier recovery2,11. Acupuncture for addicted individuals supports a positive mood, relieves stress, and aids in craving control. This therapy also appears to assist in the healing process of the mind based on the client's affect. In Oregon, heroin addicts MUST try acupuncture before getting methadone7. Heroin addicts typically have lowered energy stores and they use heroin to feel more alive. Acupuncture will restore the energy balance, thereby reducing cravings for heroin.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Panel on Acupuncture reviewed the scientific literature and concluded that acupuncture for addiction "may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management programโ€. Overall, acupuncture has been shown to increase substance abuse treatment adherence, reduce recidivism, and stabilize mood.

Substance detoxification of the addicted individual is paramount for the holistic healing process to occur. Some of the most difficult substances to overcome include opiates and amphetamines. One such holistic treatment that has worked wonders with withdrawal and craving symptoms is ibogaine treatment. Ibogaine is taken from the shrub, Tabernanthe iboga, and native to West Africa10,12. Ibogaine has been shown especially effective for opiate detoxification and for short-term stabilization of addicted individuals preparing to enter substance abuse treatment8. Its healing effects have been shown to significantly decrease craving for both heroin and cocaine along with a decrease in depressive symptoms9,10. Ibogaine appears to be a promising drug for the future. The results seem extremely promising for long term recovery and relapse prevention. Ibogaine leaves the individual feeling clear-headed with increased motivation and significant insight into the causes of their addiction. For most, ibogaine does not serve as the proverbial โ€œmagic bullet,โ€ however this treatment is definitely above current detoxification methods, where individuals leave shrouded in their addiction while remaining hopeless of a future free from the clutches of drugs.

In the fight against heroin addiction, all angles of treatment should be recognized. While there are a number of medications that will treat certain symptoms of heroin addiction, often times the individual is then dependent upon that substance to prevent heroin use, and many times those treatments themselves may cause overdose and death. New research into the world of holistic therapy and drug treatment continues to see positive results without relying on potentially dangerous drugs. Holistic treatment views the person as an individual, not an illness. It does more than just relieve symptoms; it allows for a new, healthier, happier life free from drug addiction.

More information can be found at http://www.drugrehabcenter.com, http://www.drug-alcohol-rehab.net and http://www.helpaddicts.com.