There is no safe amount of IV drug use. IV drug use increases the risk of infectious disease, overdose, and addiction.
Why IV Drug Use is So Dangerous and 7 Ways It Threatens Your Health
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Did you know?
- IV drug use puts people at a much higher risk of overdose.
- People who inject drugs are at a higher risk of HIV, tuberculosis, and viral hepatitis.
- IV drug use increases the risk of addiction and the need for individualized treatment.
Why the danger? What makes IV drug use so hazardous? And why is it that—despite the researched dangers—an estimated 11 million people worldwide inject drugs?
Why is IV Drug Use Different?
During IV drug use, a syringe is used to inject a substance directly into the bloodstream.
This method bypasses the body’s protective systems. The kidneys, liver, and digestive tract are all designed to dilute and metabolize substances as they pass through. But they can’t do their job if substances go around them.
While this might sound appealing to someone looking for a “bigger” high, it comes with an even bigger risk: overdose.
Which Drugs Are Commonly Injected?
Heroin is the most commonly injected drug. Others include:
7 Common Dangers of IV Drug Use
All of the drugs mentioned above pose extreme danger when injected and can lead to fatal overdose. But the risks don’t end there.
Let’s take a look at some of the dangers often associated with IV drug use.
IV drug use increases the risk of developing physical and psychological addiction.
- Physical Dependence: Tolerance occurs when the body becomes dependent on a drug; you have to take more and more of that substance to achieve the same effects.
- Psychological Dependence: Feeling like you can’t normally function without the use of a drug is a common symptom of psychological dependency. You experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using it or use less.
- Addiction: While dependence and tolerance are both unique, they often contribute to the development of addiction.
The illness wound botulism is caused by a germ that can get into the skin during IV drug use. This toxin attacks the body’s nerves. It causes breathing difficulties and muscle weakness. If wound botulism isn’t treated properly, it can cause death.
This germ can contaminate drugs when they’re produced, transported, or cut with other substances. Drugs contaminated with botulism don’t look any different than non-contaminated ones. And cooking the drug won’t kill the germ.
Once it enters the body, botulism attacks multiple body systems, and the person must receive antitoxin medication to treat it. The antitoxin can stop further damage and prevent death, but it can’t reverse damage already caused by the toxin.
IV drug use involves injecting a substance into the body through a syringe. If the injection is too deep, it can pierce a vein. If it is too shallow, the drug pools below the skin instead of entering the bloodstream. Either condition can cause serious infections and painful sores.
Repeated IV drug use causes veins to malfunction and collapse. But by then, the user is addicted. So, to continue using the drug, the person often injects into other parts of the body. This is called injecting intramuscularly (in a muscle) or subcutaneously (under the skin). These types of injections can cause a host of other problems, including:
- Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease): A severe skin infection that kills tissue. It can result in loss of limbs and death.
- Gas gangrene: An infection that can lead to tissue death and can be fatal.
- Tetanus: This infection can cause neck stiffness, rigidness in the abdomen, lockjaw, and difficulty swallowing.
- Track marks: Acidic drugs (like heroin) cause agitation when injected. The entry site often becomes inflamed, bruises develop, and veins collapse. These visible symptoms on the skin are called “track marks.”
Any drug injection method can cause heart problems. Specifically, bacteria may find their way to the heart and cause endocarditis (a life-threatening inflammation of the heart). Endocarditis increases the risk of stroke.
Injecting drugs damages the veins, which makes blood flow more difficult. This can cause swelling of the legs and feet, painful cramping in the legs, leg weakness, and sores on the legs or feet.
IV drug users often use syringes that are not sterile. Examples include reusing needles, sharing needles, or using needles that aren’t intended for intravenous injection.
This can expose the user to infectious diseases, specifically those spread through contact with bodily fluids. This includes HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Tuberculosis, and other blood-borne infections.
In fact, people who inject drugs are “22 times more at risk of HIV compared with the general population.”
How Can You Protect Yourself?
While there is no safe IV drug use, many dangers associated with drug injection can be treated. Some can even be reversed. The best way to avoid these dangers or stop them from progressing is to address the underlying dependence or addiction that leads to chronic misuse of injectable drugs.