The History of Heroin Abuse and the Proposed Intervention Strategies

This paper has explored the theme of abuse of heroin especially among
the youths and the young adults. The research aims at identifying the
facts behind the abuse of heroin starting from the historical background
of opium cultivation in the current state of heroin trafficking, sale,
and consumption. The paper has identified the rules of the former
Chinese emperors as the beginning of the governmental interventions
against abuse of heroin. Moreover, the paper has explored the strengths
and weakness of the current criminal judicial system in its fight
towards abuse of heroin and other narcotics. The proposed strategies for
the fight against abuse of heroin include the criminal justice reforms,
an inclusive education system, and strong anti-narcotic police unit. The
paper concludes that a reformed criminal justice system can be effective
in reducing substance abuse. Finally, the research has recommended a
further research works to identify the effects of corruption and
licensed medical practitioners in the alarming rate of abuse of heroin.
Key words: Heroin, narcotic, trafficking, substance abuse, criminal
justice system.
The History of Heroin Abuse and the Proposed Intervention Strategies
Substance abuse and related social violence have continued to be an
intriguing issue in the society for many centuries. The most affected
group in the society consists of the youths and the young adults. Most
drug abusers use mood-altering and psychoactive drugs to change their
feelings about life or change their view of issues in life. Factors,
which predispose people to drug abuse, include family history, mental
health, low self esteem, and traumatic experiences. Burke (2005) defined
substance abuse as the consumption of a substance in amounts or approved
methods. Chambless (2000) broadened the definition of substance abuse to
include the appropriation of an object against the rules and designed
policies. However, different professions have varied definitions of
drug abuse. These definitions fall under four main categories namely
criminal justice, political, mass communication, medical, and health
definitions. Heroin is one of the commonly abused drugs in the world. A
research work to explore the history of heroin abuse, its issues with
regard to criminal justices, and suitable prevention measures is
Heroin, whose scientific name is diacetylmorphine, can be classified as
an opiate analgesic. It has diverse application in a medical setting,
but mostly used to reduce severe pain especially in patients suffering
from sudden cardiac arrest. The drug acquires different names depending
with the context in which it is used. For example, the medical
practitioners and scientific researchers call Diamorphine while law
enforcers call heroin. This means that the drug can be used for
analgesic and recreational purposes. It exists as a white crystalline
substance, processed by chemically by the addition of two acetyl groups,
naturally found in the opium poppy. By the end of year 2004,
Afghanistan was the largest world producer of heroin, producing
approximately 88 % (Amani, 2005). However, other countries including
Mexico have increased their world supply of illicit drugs produced from
the opium poppy.
The success of the young people determines the prosperity of the future
generations. However, the effects of substance abuse continue to subject
the young generation into health risks, thus endangering the posterity.
Currently, most of studies on substance abuse have majored on the either
on the whole classes of recreational drugs or explore the heroin abuse
shallowly. In addition, the existing studies have rarely explored
weakness in the criminal judicial system and propose the suitable
solutions. This study seeks to fill this gap by exploring the causes of
underperformance of the criminal judicial system. In addition, the
study seeks to evaluate the potential strategies that can be used to
reduce heroin abuse.
The research questions that pushed an exploration of this theme include
the following: when and how did the heroin abuse begin? Which
legislative measures have the stakeholders established to curtail the
abuse of heroin? What is the role of criminal justice in the fight
against heroin abuse in the current world? Which strategies can the
stakeholders implement to reduce the impact of abusing heroin among the
youths? The research reviewed the published works as sources of data to
achieve the targets.
History of heroin abuse and legislation
Heroin was first produced in 1874 by an English chemist, Alder Wright by
the addition of two acetyl groups to molecular morphine. The reaction
resulted in production of a 3, 6-diacetyl ester of the morphine
molecule. However, the consumption of opium products dates back to 3400
BCE in the lower Mesopotamia, where cultivation of the plant began
(Humberto & Therissa 2011). The ancient communities used the opium
products mainly for medical purposes especially in the treatment of
asthma, defective eye sights, and stomach illnesses. This was a common
practice during the Neolithic Age. The chemical aspects of the drug
remained unknown until the 19 Th centuries, when scientists elucidated
the chemical characteristics. Scientists have identified that the main
products of opium act as alkaloids, codeine, and morphine (Humberto &
Therissa 2011).
Figure 1: Opium plant used as a source of opium derivatives including
Source: Humberto & Therissa, (2011).
The use of heroin in the formal medical setup began in 1989, when Felix
Hoffman acetylated morphine, under the instruction from the Bayer
pharmaceutical company (Shakeel, A. & Nigel, S. (2001). His efforts
resulted in the production of a codeine product named herein. The key
objective of the Bayer pharmaceutical company was to produce a product
that would cure morphine addiction and suppress cough. The introduction
of heroin as a medical drug resulted in a wide abuse of morphine
derivatives because of the heroin instability and high potency that
morphine. Scientists later discovered that heroin was morphine pro-drug,
which was subject to abuse because of its rapid conversion to morphine.
Heroin abuse and trafficking got to the peak in 1914, when it attracted
a large number of addicts in many parts of the world (Daum, 2008).
Figure 2: The container for the opiate derivative released by Bayer
pharmaceutical company with brand name “Heroin”
Source: Humberto & Therissa, (2011).
Heroin can be administered through intravenous and intramuscular means.
The Paraphernalia used in heroin injection include a spoon, hypodermic
needle, a tie-wrap, and a cotton ball. According to Marion (2005) heroin
toxicity and potency varies with the methods of injection. Intravenous
administration results of heroin results in intense effects like
addiction. Additionally, the heroin toxicity may vary with individuals
depending on the rate at which it induces destruction of the brain and
body cells. Regular consumption of heroin damages the brain capacity to
function normally, through reduced brain sensitivity to endorphins and
other compounds with similar chemical structure. Persistent use of
heroin damages the central nervous system, thus resulting in the
breakdown of impulse control and memory loss. However, research has
identified that heroin consumption for several years results in
tolerance, the level at which the brain cells require more of heroin to
produce a similar effect. Other side effects of abusing heroin include
production of ulcerated sores, weak muscles, cycles of hyper alertness,
and nodding off among others (Stancliff & Langrod, 2000).
The legal restriction of opium use began in 1729, when the Chinese
emperor, Young Cheng prohibited the opium smoking and its domestic sale.
According to Humberto & Therissa (2011) the emperor’s rule restricted
the production and consumption to medical use under a legal license.
However, the weak government of China could prevent the traders from
Britain and India from smuggling the drug into the country. The alarming
increase in the illegal use of the drug pressured the emperor to burned
its importation and exportation of Chinese silver used as a medium of
exchange. These measures could not succeed unless the other countries,
which produced the drug, could intervene. The government of United
States of America supported the efforts towards prohibition of heroin by
passing the Harrison Narcotic Tax Act in 1914. The Act restricted the
sale distribution and importation of diacetylmorphine and other opioid
derivatives. In 1924, the United States passed the Heroin Act to
restrict the manufacture and possession of heroin. The ironical scenario
happened by the 1930’s, the world class drug traders refined heroin in
Shanghai, China before exporting it to the United States (Stephen,
2009). Since then, several legal and societal measures have been
established to curtail the illegal use of heroin, but there seems to be
no absolute solution to the challenge.
Heroin and criminal justice system
The war against illegal manufacture, sale, and use of heroin needs
concerted efforts from all stakeholders including the three arms of the
criminal judicial system namely legislature, judicial and parole. The
failure of one the three arms results in a loophole and weakened rule of
law in society. Similarly, the control of illegal trade with heroin can
be viewed at the level of creation of laws, adjudication, and behavior
correction in prisons. Control of heroin through the formal legal
systems took root in 1906 after a long period of emperor rules in China.
Passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act in 1906, in the United States
marked the begging of the legal war against illegal sale and use of
opiates in the modern society. The Act outlined and prohibited the use
of ingredients, scientifically proven to be harmful to human health. The
law required the drug manufacturers and distributors to indicate any of
ingratiates identified as harmful if it is a constituent of the drug
under consideration. The law included morphine, opium, and morphine in
the list of harmful ingredients. The penalties contained in the law
included the seizure and destruction of the goods that violated the
requirements at the expense of the manufacturer or distributor. However,
application of this law could not stop the smuggling of heroin and other
narcotics (Barkan, 2000).
The passage of the Harrison Narcotic Tax Act in 1924 made a breakthrough
in the legal system towards the control of illegal sale and use of
heroin. It was a United States federal law, which targeted at the
reduced production and distribution of opiates through a tax system to
producers, importers, manufacturers, and distributors of opium
derivatives. Although the Act was more concerned with drug marketing,
Richard (2003) identified that it reduced the number of addicts by 10 %
by the end of 1945. In addition, the Act created the basis of modern law
against the American black market for drugs and criminal drug addiction
Evasion of the legal system has been a considerable challenge in
controlling the drug smuggling at the international market. Drug
traffickers develop mechanisms that ensure the progress of the business
despite the tighter measures established to regulate and curtail their
trade. In 1978, the Mexican and the United States collaborated to spray
the opium plantations with Agent Orange. This was a successful measure,
which reduced the supply of raw opium in the United Sates drug market.
However, the drug traffickers outsourced the product from Iran,
Afghanistan, and Pakistan, thus restoring the upsurge in the sale and
use of heroin.
A research by Bryan (2011) identified the Golden Triangle of Southern
Asia as the main producer of opium products. The region produces
approximately 2,500 of opiates per Annum. The main trafficking routes
include the Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and South China. The
established cartels that at times include government officials make the
blockage of the identified trafficking routes difficult. George, (2010)
identified that the cartels especially in Nigeria, China, Colombia, and
Mexico use aggressive means to market the drugs. He identified that the
social vice including the killings, corruption, and circumvention with
government agents paved an easier way for the drug traffickers in these
Despite the numerous legal control measures on drug trafficking, the
black market has continued to skyrocket in the last few decades. This
evidences the fact that criminalization and the imposition of punitive
sanctions cannot render an absolute solution. The previous measure in
the criminal justice systems has experienced a dramatic increase in the
rate of incarceration of the drug dealers. According to Bryan (2011)
the criminal justice system has proven to be an ineffective means of
controlling substance abuse. The system has failed to manage the black
market despite its application for centuries. Many youths have
continually been engaged in drug use many have died, and others have
gone beyond medical rehabilitation as a result of heroin misuse.
Proposed strategies to eradicate heroin abuse
Opium derivatives have been used for millions specifically for medical
and recreational purposes. The main interventions made after the
discovery of heroin side effects majored in the legal system, but could
not succeeded in eradicating the vice in the society. The criminal
judicial system culminated in the incarceration of masses, with the
United States of America registering approximately 2.5 million prisoners
of illegal drug handling (Bryan, 2011). This means that radical
interventions are necessary to save the majority of heroin addicted
youths in the world.
There are several mechanisms, which can reinforce the fight against the
heroin abuse in the society and provide promising results within a short
period compared to the legal measures of the past. First, the
stakeholders should review and change the orientation of the existing
criminal justice system. It is evident that the existing laws against
illegal drug production and trafficking discriminate against some
members of society. The legal system in the United States of America,
for example, discriminates against the people of color. Bryan (2011)
documented that the black Americans comprise only 14 % of the regular
drug users, but they comprise 37 % of the people arrested for drug
offenses. He further suggested that the incarcerated African Americans
for minor drug offenses serve almost equivalent sentence with the white
incarcerated for violent drug offenses. Apart from racial
discrimination, the judicial justice system has discriminated against
the poor people in the society. The Mexican criminal judicial systems
provide a platform for the bias outcome in favor of the rich drug law
offenders. To this end, it is clear that the criminal justice system
cannot be blamed in totality for failure to curtail heroin abuse. A
change in the orientation, objectivity, and a keen enforcement can
render the system effective. The current criminal justice system should
be streamlined to offer justice equally to all members of society
irrespective of their race and wealth.
Secondly, a more inclusive and responsive education system can help in
reducing heroin abuse among the youths. The stakeholders should ensure
that the education system caters for the ambitions of the students to
reduce their disorientation through peer pressure. In addition, an
appropriate education system has the capacity to create awareness among
younger students. Moreover, the education system should equip the
teachers with suitable skills for a positive response to the children
involved with heroin abuse, accept and counsel them. This can be
achieved through flexible teaching approaches and rehabilitation
schedules. These measures can save the lives of millions of youths and
reduce the future economic pressure resulting from the rehabilitation
and treatment of the youths under substance abuse. West Virginia alone
had a youths’ rehabilitation budget of about $ 13 million in the year
2009 (Yetty, 2007). Yetty (2007) research suggested that if all the
necessary measure could be taking to rehabilitated and treat all the
youth in the education system, the budget would amount to 11.5 % the
total budget for the education sector in West Virginia. This can be
remedied through primary prevention based on the reformed education
system, instead of spending many resources on the secondary measures,
which include the treatment and rehabilitation of the victims.
Thirdly, the stakeholders should equip the antinarcotics police units
with the knowledge and weapons to deal with the drug trafficking
cartels. The stakeholders should put in place training programs for the
police officers assigned the duty to investigate and arrest the drug
dealers. Previous studies have identified that the majority of the
cartels especially in Mexico, South China, Burma, and Nigeria have
established machineries, which help them to either escape the police
traps or kill the officers who attempt to investigate their activities
(George, 2010). Notably, drug traffickers earn billions of dollars from
the illegal business, which enables them to exploit new markets and
change the distribution channels with ease. This makes the police traps
almost irrelevant. According to Lisa (2011) the international drug
traders have the capacity to employ the best brains in the job market
including high class chemists, legal, financial, and logistical experts.
Mark (2008) identified that an established collaboration between the
police and custom officers could reduce the entry of heroin into the
European market from Asian traffickers. However, the police departments
were overwhelmed because they were poorly equipped compared to the
cartel operators. This can be curtailed by equipping the anti-narcotic
police officers with crime laboratory equipments and sniffing dogs. This
can be an effective measure especially at the ports targeted by the
international drug traders (Lisa, 2011).
Conclusion and recommendations
Substance abuse is currently a serious health risk especially among the
youths and young adults. Heroin, one of the opium derivatives has
continued to present a significant threat in the society. The cheap
Paraphernalia used, and the small amount of the drug required to induce
addiction makes the drug rank among the riskiest substances of abuse.
Formulation and implementation of legal systems alone cannot succeed in
eradicating the heroin abuse in the society. The criminal justice
system, working alone can only result in mass incarceration and economic
pressure due to high costs of rehabilitation and treatment of the
affected members of the society. The interplay of the legal, education
system, and strong police forces can guarantee success in the fight
against heroin abuse now and in the future. Educational programs to all
stakeholders ranging from the police officers, youths and all members of
the society are inevitable in the war against heroin trafficking, sale,
and consumption.
This paper recommends a further study that will identify the truth
effects of corruption in facilitating international heroin trafficking.
Speculators suggest that some customs officers, politicians, and law
enforcers have a part to play in the international drug trade especially
at the ports. The paper also recommends a further study that will
investigate the participation of the licensed medical practitioners in
the distribution of heroin to its abusers. The study will unveil the
truth about the speculation that authorized health professionals take
advantage of the rare opportunity to make money through the illegal sale
of heroin to its abusers.
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