The Opioid Epidemic: understanding the impact

Heroin abuse continues to spike in Portland. What you need to know.

An epidemic of opioid addiction continues to plague the state of Oregon and affect Americans across the nation. According to a very detailed report by the Oregon Substance Use Disorder Research Committee, our state’s rate of deaths caused by opioids is 12 in 100,000, with a very high rate of opioid-related hospitalizations, at 307 per 100,000.

While the numbers should be sobering, continued abuse of opioids in Oregon is a constant reminder of the increase per capita of overdoses, both nonlethal and lethal, on our streets and in our homes.

What is heroin?

The Foundation for a Drug-Free World describes heroin as a highly addictive drug, derived from the resin of poppy plants. The sap-like opium is removed from the poppy flower, refined and made into morphine, then eventually different types of heroin. In fact, heroin was originally manufactured as a substance to help cure morphine addition.

In its purest form, the drug is distributed as a white power. Color variations reflect different additives, which could be even more dangerous to someone abusing the drug. The drug can be snorted, smoked or injected, all of which have devastating effects.

Why are opioids addictive?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), heroin reduces perceptions of pain by binding to opioid receptors in the “rewards centers” of the brain, leading to feelings of well-being. However, if the chemical bind takes place in other areas in the brain, users may experience drowsiness and/or respiratory depression, which can cause an overdose.

With regular abuse, the body decreases production of naturally occurring chemicals, including endorphins, which can cause withdrawal symptoms when the drugs are no longer in a user’s system. Tolerance for the drug increases with continued abuse, which requires users to take higher doses to feel the same effect. Conversely, tolerance decreases during abstinence from the drug, which contributes to the high risk of overdose for a user in recovery.

What happens when you consume heroin?

There are multiple effects that users experience, both in the short term and long term. Short-term effects of opioid abuse can include:

  • A euphoric or “high” sensation
  • Relief of physical pain
  • Sedation or tired feeling

However, the long-term and/or continued abuse may lead to:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal distention and bloating
  • Constipation
  • Brain damage due to hypoxia, resulting from respiratory depression
  • Development of tolerance
  • Dependence
  • Death

In addition to the dangers of the drug itself, sharing or using a needle that is not sterilized may lead to the transfer of disease, including AIDS and Hepatitis C.

If you suspect a loved one is abusing opioids, it is imperative to get them help as soon as possible. There are many signs, both physical and psychological, which can help point out a potential substance addiction, including:

  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated or abnormally small pupils
  • Slurred speech and coordination issues
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Abnormal body odors
  • Unexplained mood or personality changes
  • Anxiety
  • Euphoria
  • Increased energy
  • Anger
  • Paranoia

Doctors and nurses at The Portland Clinic do their best to help keep our community educated and informed on ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Throughout multiple clinic locations, our team of experts is prepared to help with any questions you may have about substance abuse and how you can help save your life or the life of a loved one. To schedule an appointment with a mental health or general practitioner at The Portland Clinic, call 503-223-3113 or visit