Cristhian Negrón Rodríguez, Ana Figueroa Vázquez, Amanda Morales Rivera, Rosario Loperena,

and Marcel De Jesús Vega

Heroin addiction is currently a significant health crisis that affects millions of people in the United States and Puerto Rico, for which effective treatments are yet to be developed. Due to this ongoing health crisis and to educate about the effects and current treatments for this narcotic in the population, the prevalence, number of heroin overdoses, and deaths in Puerto Rico and the United States were studied. Heroin is an opioid based on morphine, which tends to be injected, snorted, or smoked, where users frequently mix it with other drugs, such as crack and fentanyl. Since the 1990’s, opioid production has been on the rise due to the relentless search for novel drugs that aid in the management of pain. This led to the manufacture of synthetic opioids that began to be prescribed with fewer restrictions. Eventually, it was discovered that they were very addictive.

Because restrictions were added to these novel prescribed opioids, people addicted to them started looking for alternatives like heroin. The increase in use of this narcotic was due to its accessibility, cost effectiveness, and equal or greater potency. This resulted in the constant abuse and death of thousands of people. It is estimated that 80% of heroin users first began using prescription opioids inappropriately. Statistics show that in 2019 there were 14,019 heroin overdose deaths in the United States. That same year, 1,510 heroin users diagnosed with an opioid-related disorder were reported in Puerto Rico. The swift entrance to the brain and its binding to opioid receptors located in regions engaged in the sensation of pain, pleasure, as well as the control of heart rate, sleep, and breathing, contribute to the constant urge in users to consume the drug. Among the short and long-term effects of the use of this narcotic, the cloudy mental functioning, a state between being conscious and unconscious, insomnia, depression, and antisocial personality disorders, are the most recurrent. In addition, different disorders and disabilities have been associated with heroin abuse, such as hypothalamic, pituitary, and gonadal dysfunction. Medications such as lofexidine, methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are nowadays being used to treat these symptoms. However, the implementation of better treatments that make the process more attractive is imperative for more people to seek and enter these services. That is why this initiative has the purpose to educate about the trajectory of heroin throughout history, understand the treatments that currently exist and think of better ways to impact this sector of the population, who represent a public health problem in Puerto Rico and the United States.

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