Education is a key factor in reducing the growing number of overdoses and drug-related deaths. Sharing information with the community is paramount because substance abuse takes many forms and people can consume drugs in several different ways. For example, illicit drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin can be smoked, snorted or ingested. In cases where increasingly large doses are required to achieve their desired high, those struggling with drug addiction with often turn to taking drugs intravenously, injecting chemicals directly into the bloodstream.
Intravenous drug use poses multiple, potentially fatal health risks to drug users. Understanding these risks more fully makes it easier to identify and assist friends and family members who have turned to intravenous drug use.
Risks Of Injecting Drugs
Injecting drugs directly into the bloodstream can put the user at serious risk. First, it is very easy to overdose using this method without the proper knowledge of dose sizes. Second, injections are invasive – performing injections regularly calls for proper preventative and sanitary care. Third, advanced drug users are considerably more likely to share injection supplies, an extremely unsanitary and unsafe practice. Finally, repeat injections make the body more vulnerable to infections due to a diminished immune system and other factors.
“Mainlining,” or injecting drugs directly into the bloodstream, is often the preferred method of drug users who want an intense high very quickly. This is also the most dangerous method of injecting drugs.
The effects of illicit drugs injected directly into the bloodstream are often felt within seconds and much more intensely than with other dosing methods. However, the risk for overdose associated with intravenous drug use is extremely high. Injecting drugs with time-release constructions, for example, can cause unpredictable effects and lead to an overdose when too much of the drug enters the user’s system at once.
Illegal drugs are not regulated in any way, and many dealers will mix additives into their drugs in order to produce different effects or sell more volume. These mixes are unpredictable and can easily prove fatal when injected. This unpredictability further magnifies the health risks associated with intravenous drug use.
Poor Sanitation And Training
Introducing substances directly into the bloodstream is preferred by some, as it gives an immediate high. The risk with intravenous drug use is that it also opens a hole directly into your bloodstream, allowing not only the drugs to be introduced to the body immediately, but allowing bacteria and pathogens to also be directly inserted into the bloodstream. The immediate risk is infection that can be introduced directly to the bloodstream, which can be life-threatening.
A lack of medical training increases the danger of intravenous drug use as well. Inexperienced drug users may attempt to achieve a more profound high by suddenly increasing their doses. Depending on the user and his or her body chemistry, even a small mistake in measuring or performing the injection could result in a fatal overdose.
Intravenous drug users are considerably more likely to contract a disease or infection when sharing injection supplies. In fact, unsafe needle practices were one of the major driving forces behind the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. The potential for needle sharing increases when users begin to prioritize drug use over their friends and families. Many users abandon their jobs and homes to move into communal houses where unsafe injection practices are the norm.
Obtaining clean injection supplies is extremely difficult as it is illegal to possess syringes and other needles in the United States without a valid medical prescription. This scarcity of clean injection supplies, combined with the propensity of drug users to share and reuse injection supplies, puts intravenous drug users in constant danger of contracting HIV and other infections.
Possible Immunodeficiency Diseases From Injecting
A study from the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Center for AIDS Prevention Studies estimated that up to 36% of all the AIDS cases in the U.S. resulted from intravenous drug use. A global study conducted by the World Health Organization concluded that as many as one in ten new HIV cases are due to injecting illicit drugs.
Additionally, immune diseases such as hepatitis B and C are easily spread by sharing needles. These diseases can lead to liver complications such as permanent scarring, liver failure, cancer and cirrhosis. USCF studies also show that up to 60% of hepatitis C infections in the U.S. are due to intravenous drug use.
In rare cases, pathogens that manage to travel to the bone from the injection site can result in severe musculoskeletal infections. Such infections are particularly dangerous because they typically go unnoticed for long periods of time – individuals with these infections often only feel mild to moderate pains in uncommon parts of the body.
Contaminants such as bacteria, fungi and other pathogens can compromise drug shipments while the chemicals are in transit or in storage. Since illegal drugs are not regulated, drug traffickers typically do not concern themselves with sanitation. As a result, many confiscated illegal drugs test positively for infection-causing pathogens.
Drug users using compromised injection equipment often experience skin infections or abscesses at injection sites. Bacterial infections in these open wounds are common as well. Users must be exceptionally wary of contracting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, from unsanitary injection equipment. MRSA can cause several types of infections that are resistant to most antibiotics and exceedingly difficult to treat. Additionally, MRSA can spread through open wounds (such as intravenous injection sites) extremely easily.
A high risk of overdose and direct exposure to deadly diseases are just two of the many dire consequences that come with injecting illicit substances into the bloodstream. That’s why it’s so critical for those struggling with addiction and the friends and family of users to understand the risks associated with intravenous drug use. Catching the signs of intravenous drug use and intervening early on will help to reduce the likelihood of a tragic worst case scenario.