Although heroin addiction is known to be calamitously destructive, in 2003 the British Medical Journal published a study from the Netherlands, which suggested that for “treatment resistant” heroin addicts, there were significant health advantages to be gained from prescribing the drug alongside conventional treatments. Twenty five per cent of addicts who had been using heroin for five years responded well to the prescription strategy, compared to just 10 per cent of people given a methadone-only treatment.

Even though the prescribed heroin group showed outcomes nearly three times better than the methadone group, the fact remains that a sizeable majority of heroin addicts responded poorly to either treatment. It seems that if prescribed heroin is to be successful, it must occur in a carefully controlled and regulated environment. Moreover, heroin addiction treatments are known to be considerably more effective when the condition is caught early.

Telltale signs of heroin addiction may alert loved ones, friends and even users that a dangerous condition is setting in. These include a sudden drop in performance at school or at work, a noticeable decline in personal care (a common symptom of substance abusers), a rise in uncharacteristically reckless behaviour (heroin addicts will do almost anything, including criminal acts, to finance their next “hit”), and an unusually marked withdrawal from social activities, friendships and family relationships.

Physical signs of heroin addiction include needle marks on the arm or legs, radical demotivation, slurred speech, outbursts of uncharacteristic hostility, and a runny nose or continual sniffing. If heroin addiction is rearing its ugly head, catching it early offers the best chance of full recovery.