When one thinks of a heroin user, thoughts most often come to mind of a person living in squalor in a big metropolitan city or that of an artsy, poetic hipster (while there are many literary works on the life of heroin users, my all-time favorite is Basketball Diaries, an autobiographical account written by Jim Carroll during the ages of 12 to 15. From this description of Carroll’s two works on his life with heroin at the catholicboy.com website of Carroll scholar, Dr Cassie Carter: “After reading about 30 pages of the Diaries, [Jack] Kerouac stated that ‘at the age of 13, Jim Carroll writes better prose than 89 per cent of the novelists working today’”
And when one thinks of drug problems in place like Ohio or Iowa, clandestine synthesis of the drug in trailers is usually what I first think of.
These notions are shattered on the front page of today’s Sunday New York Times in an excellent article by Randel C. Archibold with Antonio Betancourt.
Heroin is a semi-synthetic derivative of the natural product, morphine. The water-soluble hydroxyl groups on the molecule are acetylated (with acetyl chloride) to produce a molecule, sometimes called diacetylmorphine, with greater ability than morphine to cross the blood-brain barrier. When injected, heroin produces an intense euphoria that radiates throughout the body in a manner that morphine cannot. While it is difficult to quantify how “addictive” a substance can be, most of my neuroscience colleagues would rate injected heroin among the most addictive substances known.
The lynchpin of the spread of heroin across suburban populations is its surprisingly low cost today:
Investigators say that Arthur Eisel was not alone in switching from a prescription painkiller to heroin. It gives a similar, euphoric high at a fraction of the cost, $10 to $20 for a “balloon” — one dose, usually a gram or less — as opposed to upwards of $60 for a typical prescription pill dose on the street.
The article is more of a personal family story of the late Arthur Eisel. But it certainly opened my eyes as to how prevalent and inexpensive heroin is in the most unlikely of places.