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Heroin Addiction in Pennsylvania


Table of Contents

  1. What is Heroin Addiction
  2. Heroin Statistics in PA
  3. Heroin Effects
  4. Heroin Withdrawal
  5. Heroin Addiction Treatment
  6. Heroin Addiction Treatment at Valley Forge

Heroin addiction is common within Pennsylvania and other states in the USA. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health[1], in 2016, approximately 948,000 Americans reported heroin use in the previous year. Due to the rise of heroin use, many individuals may experience addiction and withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop use.

Heroin is a highly addictive substance that usually appears like a brown or white powder. In some cases, the drug also looks like black tar. Individuals within and outside Pennsylvania typically use the substance by mixing with water or injecting it with a needle. This article provides essential details about heroin addiction and its significance in the state of Pennsylvania.

What is Heroin Addiction?

Heroin addiction signifies a chronic relapsing disorder to the substance. It involves the frequent seeking of the drug by an individual, despite the negative effects. Experts also regard heroin addiction as a brain disorder because it involves changes to the brain parts responsible for stress, reward, and control. Note that brain changes may last long after stopping to take Heroin.

Effects of heroin addiction are similar to common medical conditions because they disrupt the normal functioning of organs in the body. Results of addiction from the substance may include various severe symptoms and ultimately loss of life.

PA Heroin Statistics

Heroin is a part of a drug class called opioids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse[2], in 2018, 65 percent of drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania were connected to opioid use. The drug admission data by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Drug and Alcohol[3] also proved that abuse of heroin is rising.

Heroin has long been a problem in Pennsylvania. Data shows that the number of heroin treatment admissions rose steadily from 1996 to 2000. In 1996, there were 7,413 and 10,646 in 2000. Western Pennsylvania also experiences an increase in the use of the substance. According to the US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania in 2001, heroin was the second-highest drug threat in the Pittsburgh region after cocaine.

Heroin Consequences

There are both short- and long-term effects of heroin use. These effects also differ from person to person, depending on the frequency of use or presence of other substances. If an individual experiences abuse of the drug, the severity of the symptoms or effects may increase.

Short Term Effects:
  • Heavy arms and legs: This condition makes the arms and legs difficult to lift or move forward or backward. It may be synonymous with dragging a five-pound bag. Apart from heroin, other conditions may cause the feeling. Some other potential causes include peripheral arterial disease (PAD), overtraining syndrome, and lumbar spinal stenosis.
  • Itching: The medical name for itching is pruritus, and substances like heroin cause mild to severe itching. Some causes of itching due to heroin include the immune system response, nerves, or injuries to the skin. If an individual’s immune system treats heroin as an allergen, it will result in itching. Heroin may also react with receptors and send itch signals to the brain.
  • Fuzzy brain: Fuzzy brain or brain fog is not a medical condition but a term that describes a state of being mentally slow. Heroin use may cause stress and lack of sleep, resulting in symptoms of a “fuzzy” brain. Note that fuzzy brain may occur due to a deficiency in vitamin B-12, which is a vitamin that supports the healthy functioning of the brain.
  • Dry mouth: Another name or medical term for a dry mouth is xerostomia. Heroin affects the saliva’s quantity in the mouth on a short-term basis. Other drugs that may cause xerostomia include antidepressants, tranquilizers, antihistamines, analgesics, and diuretics. Note that side effects of certain diseases and infections may also cause dry mouth.
  • Euphoria: This effect defines the experience of excitement and intense feelings of happiness after heroin use. Note that euphoria is one of the major effects that the drug causes in individuals. The euphoric feeling may last between two to four hours or longer, depending on the quantity in the body system.
Long term effects:
  • Mental disorders: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse[4], chronic use of certain drugs can result in short-and long-term changes in the brain, resulting in mental disorders. Common mental health challenges include depression, aggression, hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia, and other conditions.
  • Insomnia: This condition is a sleep disorder where the individual has problems falling or staying asleep. Generally, insomnia can be acute or chronic, but it’s long-term in the case of heroin addiction. The relationship between heroin use and sleep problems is bidirectional[5], which means insufficient sleep can also increase the risk of drug use.
  • Liver disease: This medical condition involves a disturbance in the normal functioning of the liver, which results in an illness. Excessive intake of heroin and some other medications poses a threat to the liver. Signs of liver disease include weakness, weight loss, nausea, and yellow discoloration of the skin. Consult a doctor when you observe any signs of the condition.
  • Infections in the heart lining and valves: Heroin contains contaminants and toxins that shouldn’t get into the bloodstream. The toxins may cause blockages in the veins and restrict blood flow, which causes clogged blood vessels. Note that clogged vessels result in infections, which may cause damages to vital organs in the body.
  • Collapsed veins: This is an injury that occurs due to the consistent use of intravenous injections. This vein type is a blown vein that has caved in, preventing the free flow of blood through the vein. If the swelling goes down, blood may begin to flow through the body system. Note that a collapsed vein can be permanent if the damage is severe.

Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin addiction may lead to health challenges and problems at work, school, or home. The human body builds tolerance to heroin due to high and consistent intake. Over time, this also causes an individual to depend on the drug. Here are some withdrawal symptoms that may occur when a person with heroin dependence attempts to stop its intake:

  1. Sleeping problems: When individuals stop the intake of heroin, they may experience insomnia. It may be difficult for the individual to fall asleep, and they may also wake up several times through the night. Some signs that follow sleeping problems include the inability to focus, constant headaches, and daytime fatigue.
  • Uncontrollable leg movements: Involuntary movements like shaking the legs and arms are common withdrawal symptoms of heroin. According to the National Institute of Health[6], other types of drug-induced movements include neuroleptic malignant syndrome, tremor, parkinsonism-hyperpyrexia, akathisia, and acute dystonic reactions.
  • Vomiting: After use, heroin can result in nausea and vomiting. Symptoms of this condition can range from mild to severe. It’s essential to seek immediate medical help if you observe consistent nausea and vomiting, even though they are typical heroin withdrawal symptoms.
  • Jitters: This condition is synonymous with an anxiety disorder. It describes a state of extreme nervous shaking or fear. Note that there are other potential causes of jitters apart from heroin withdrawal. Some common causes include genetics, differences in the perception of threat, and differences in brain chemistry and function.
  • Bone and muscle pain: Musculoskeletal pain can be acute or severe. It may occur as localized pain, and it may affect the entire body. Individuals may experience muscle and bone pain that could affect the movement of certain parts of the body.

Treatment of Heroin Addiction

There are several effective treatment methods for heroin use disorder. Common techniques medical practitioners adopt include the use of medications and therapy. Utilizing therapy and medications can be effective when they work hand-in-hand or separately, depending on the doctor’s prescription. Here’s more information about both treatment approaches:


Licensed doctors typically prescribe certain FDA-approved drugs to reduce drug use, transmit infectious diseases, and increase retention during treatment programs. Certain drugs can help during the detox stage to ease the individual’s craving and other major symptoms that may cause relapse.

The drugs developed for the treatment of heroin use disorder work through the same receptors as the substance. In the treatment procedure, the prescribed drugs are safer and have lower tendencies of producing harmful behaviors from the individual. Here are the three major types of drugs for the treatment of heroin addiction:

  1. Agonists
  2. Partial agonists
  3. Antagonists
Therapy Modalities

Mental health experts recommend various effective behavioral therapies for the treatment of heroin use disorder. Note that these therapies may be effective when they work independently or alongside certain medications. Here are the two major methods of treating heroin addiction via therapy:

  1. Cognitive-behavioral Therapy: This technique helps individuals modify their expectations and behavior as it links to heroin use. It also focuses on helping individuals cope with major stressors that may cause relapse.
  • Contingency Management: Mental health experts employ a voucher-based system that enables patients to earn points based on negative test results. Huge points can be exchanged for valuable items that encourage the individual to live a healthy life.

Heroin Addiction Treatment at Valley Forge Medical Center

Heroin addiction is highly prevalent in Pennsylvania and other regions in the United States. Addiction causes a variety of symptoms and requires medical help. At Valley Forge Medical Center we can identify the method of treatment that fits best for you or you loved one. Our empathetic and highly skilled team of addiction treatment professionals can help change your lives.


  1. 2016, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, ‘Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables’,
  2. NIDA. 2020, April 3. Pennsylvania: Opioid-Involved Deaths and Related Harms. Retrieved from on 2021, July 16
  3. June 2001, National Drug Intelligence Center, ‘Pennsylvania Drug Threat Assessment’,
  4. NIDA. 2020, June 15. Mental Health Effects. Retrieved from on 2021, July 16
  5. NIDA. 2020, March 9. Connections between Sleep and Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved from on 2021, July 16
  6. Duma, S. R., & Fung, V. S. (2019). Drug-induced movement disorders. Australian prescriber, 42(2), 56–61.

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