Women dependent on opiates and opioids are likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Among their most common medical problems are anaemia, cardiac disease, diabetes, pneumonia, and hepatitis. They also have an abnormally high rate of spontaneous abortion, breech delivery, caesarean section, and premature birth. Withdrawal from the drugs has also been linked to a high incidence of stillbirths.
Infants born to heroin-dependent mothers are smaller than average and frequently show evidence of acute infection. Most exhibit withdrawal symptoms of varying degrees and duration. The death rate among these infants is higher than normal.
If tried by summary conviction, a first offence for opiate or opioid possession carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and six months imprisonment. For subsequent offences, the maximum penalty is a $2,000 fine and 12 months imprisonment. If tried by indictment, opiate or opioid possession carries a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.
Importing, exporting, trafficking, and possession for the purposes of trafficking are all indictable offences and carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Cultivation of opium is also an indictable offence and carries a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.
It is illegal to obtain a prescription for opiates, opioids or any other ‘narcotic’ from health care professionals without notifying them that you have obtained a similar prescription through another practitioner within the last 30 days.
Tolerance and Dependence
With regular use, tolerance develops to many of the desired effects of the drugs. This means the user must use more of the drug to achieve the same intensity of effect.
Long-term users may also become psychologically and physically dependent.
Psychological dependence exists when a drug is so central to a person’s thoughts, emotions, and activities that the need to continue its use becomes a craving or compulsion. With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug, and withdrawal symptoms occur if use of the drug is reduced or stopped abruptly. Some users take heroin on an occasional basis, thus avoiding physical dependence.
Withdrawal may occur in regular users as early as a few hours after the last administration. It produces:
- abdominal cramps
- goose bumps
- runny nose
These symptoms are accompanied by a craving for the drug. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after a week. Some bodily functions, however, do not return to normal levels for as long as six months. Sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health has occasionally been fatal. Opiate and opioid withdrawal, however, is much less dangerous to life than alcohol and barbiturate withdrawal.
Overdose is a particular risk on the street, where the amount of drug contained in a ‘hit’ cannot be accurately gauged.