Heroin is a highly addictive, semi-synthetic opioid drug. Heroin is sometimes used illegally for recreational use because it produces intense feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Tolerance to heroin often leads users to require more of the drug to produce the same effects over time.
Heroin is also available under other names for pharmaceutical purposes like relief from acute pain and treatment of heroin addiction. Heroin is only legally available on the pharmaceutical market in some countries.
Methadone is also a synthetic opioid drug. It is available for medical purposes, including pain relief and treatment of addiction to other drugs such as heroin and morphine.
When a pregnant women uses heroin, the child takes heroin into the blood stream via the placenta. In this way, a baby may become addicted to heroin before birth.
Heroin in Unborn Babies
Unborn children of mothers addicted to heroin are at increased risk for a premature or stillbirth, in addition to the complications they may face after their birth. However, mothers addicted to heroin should not attempt to stop heroin use without consulting a physician. To safely reduce the mother's dependence on heroin, a physician may use methadone.
Heroin Addiction and Withdrawal After Birth
A baby that is exposed to heroin is at high risk for a number of afflictions after birth, including hypoglycaemia, intracranial haemorrhage, premature birth, breathing problems and low birth weight. While in withdrawal from the drug, the baby may experience tremors, seizures, vomiting, moodiness, achiness, difficulty sleeping, fever and diarrhoea.
Methadone Treatment for Mothers on Heroin
Methadone reduces or eliminates an addict's craving for heroin while blocking the effects, thus allowing the user to transition from heroin addiction to a drug-free lifestyle with less severe withdrawal symptoms. This is especially important for pregnant mothers because the symptoms of withdrawal may cause contractions of the uterus, initiating a premature birth or even causing the mother to miscarry.
Methadone Withdrawal in Infants
Infants born of mothers who were taking methadone during pregnancy might experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are similar to the effects of withdrawal from heroin. They include sleeping problems, lack of appetite, moodiness and fussiness, vomiting, tremors and fever.
Long Term Effects
It is not precisely known what the long-term effects of heroin and methadone are on children. Many children born addicted to heroin and methadone require special education classes in school, and some need to repeat one or more grades. Whether this is the result of exposure to drugs or for other reasons is unknown.