Heroin is one of the most abused drugs in the world. It is an opiate narcotic synthesized
from Morphine, one of the most powerful pain-killers which is itself derived from
the opium poppy. Heroin was first synthesized in Germany in the late 19th century
and was aptly named 'heroisch' (powerful). Heroin acts on the central nervous system
and is highly addictive. Dependency develops rather quickly.
The spectrum of adverse effects to the fetus from heroin use in pregnancy range from
premature delivery, through growth restriction to stillbirth. Nor does the problem
stop at delivery, as such babies suffer serious withdrawal symptoms, needing treatment
which may last several days, even weeks.
More than half of heroin addict babies are born prematurely. Tragically, a substantial
proportion of these fail to make it altogether.
Alternative to heroin in pregnancy
If you are already addicted to heroin and you find yourself pregnant, the advice
is to switch to methadone, which is a related drug.
Methadone is administered at scheduled intervals (as opposed to haphazard heroin
use). This helps to keep blood levels of the drug relatively stable. This helps minimize
withdrawal, which is the scourge of heroin addiction for both mother and baby.
To stop or not to stop methadone when pregnant
It is preferable not to stop Methadone if already on this when you fall pregnant.
If you stop, you are likely to unleash withdrawal in the fetus, which could be disastrous.
The advice is to continue taking methadone as per schedule and, with expert help,
careful attempts to reduce the amounts taken could be started, if this is desired.
Attempts to quit altogether, though noble, should ideally be made after delivery.
Withdrawal problems for a baby whose mother was on Methadone
It is inevitable that a baby born to the mother who has maintained on Methadone will
suffer some degree of withdrawal.
The degree of withdrawal symptoms will depend on the dose of methadone she was maintained
on i.e. the higher the dose, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms.
Heroin is usually injected but some users smoke or sniff it. The effect on the brain
is the same though the degree might vary. The origin is the opium poppy (below) grown
illicitly in many parts of the world