I have an undercover narcotics officer. In the course of investigating a gang, he’s become addicted to heroin. After the bust, he goes through withdrawal. How can I write this realistically?
Your undercover police officer is in for a rough ride. Here’s some information about heroin:
Heroin is derivative of morphine. Opium poppies yield morphine, which undergoes acetylation (adding two acetyl groups) to the molecule of morphine.
Heroin’s chemical name is diacetylmorphine hydrochloride or morphine diacetate or diamorphine—street name “smack.” It is a narcotic analgesic, meaning it decreases pain and produces euphoria. Heroin is illegal; it’s been around for over a century, but has been illegal for over eighty years in the USA.
Diamorphine is a legal restricted drug requiring prescription, is tightly controlled, and typically used only for severe pain.
In the body, heroin is a “prodrug,” metabolized to the active form, which is morphine. The drug works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, inhibiting release of the brain chemical GABA, increasing the action of dopamine, a natural substance occurring in the brain. This leads to pleasure and addiction to the pleasure produced by the drug.
Morphine itself is a weaker activator of this reward pathway.
Heroin is much stronger than morphine, and as an illegal drug is often “cut”—other inactive substances are added to the heroin to amplify the amount of drug. This makes the strength of the drug on the street extremely unreliable and leaves users vulnerable to overdose.
Regular use of heroin results in tolerance and addiction, or physical dependence. Abstinence results in withdrawal within twenty-four hours, which is accompanied by physical symptoms:
Anxiety, sweating, tearing and runny nose, chills, body aches, GI irritation such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting; inability to relax and sleep. This is what your character will experience as he comes off the drug. As withdrawal can be fatal, close medical care will be necessary.
In the United States, the legal (but controlled) drug Methadone is used to wean heroin addicts. Many addicts, however, then become addicted to Methadone and never become drug-free. The advantage of Methadone is consistent dosing and quality, which is associated with a decreased incidence of overdose.
Hope this helps!
Kelly has worked in the medical field for over twenty years, mainly at large medical centers. With experience in a variety of settings, chances are Kelly may have seen it.
Sometimes truth seems stranger than fiction in medicine, but accurate medicine in fiction is fabulous.
Find her fiction at www.kellywhitley.com.