9 Dangers of IV Drug Use

Dane O’Leary

January 11, 2022

4 mins


According to a recent study, more than 750,000 Americans partake in intravenous drug use on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this number is increasing year over year due to the current opioid epidemic. To put this in perspective, among Americans ages 12 years and older, 31.9 million are current illegal drug users and have used an illicit substance within the past 30 days. 

Persons who inject drugs (PWID) are at a higher risk of illness and complications because of the multiple dangers of drug injection. Each time a PWID injects a drug into their system, they put themselves at risk for contracting an infection or a virus from a dirty needle and other unsanitary practices.  

There are multiple health dangers associated with IV drug use. Learn more about possible drug injection risks below.

Dependency

When a person injects a drug into their system, that drug bypasses the blood-brain barrier and goes right into their bloodstream. This means the effects of the drug can be felt almost immediately. Researchers at Rutgers University found that an IV drug takes effect in only 15 to 30 seconds after it is injected, compared to taking 5 minutes if it was snorted.

There is a higher risk of dependency with IV drug use simply because of the rapid action of the high combined with the severity of its effects. Simply put, IV drugs hit the body so fast that the extreme high is unlike any other high the PWID may have ever experienced.

It is also hard for users to truly know how much they are injecting into their system, so it can be easy to develop a tolerance to a higher amount without even realizing it. 

Vein Collapse

Continuous IV injections into the same vein can cause scarring, bruising, and inflammation of the vein’s internal wall. Veins are delicate and constant injections cause trauma, leading to their collapse. A collapsed vein cannot function properly, and blood is unable to travel through it to the body’s arteries. While it is possible to heal a collapsed vein, PWIDs with a long history of IV injections in the same site risk permanent vein damage. 

HIV/AIDS

HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If it is not treated HIV can cause AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and there is currently no cure. 

More than 1 million people in the United States have HIV, and it is estimated that 10 percent of HIV cases have been caused by IV drug use. This happens due to sharing contaminated needles, as the virus is transmissible via blood. 

Abscesses and Skin Ulcers

An abscess is a collection of pus right underneath the skin, and forms when bacteria and other germs get trapped. A skin ulcer is an open sore that occurs due to poor blood flow and decreased circulation. They tend to start as an injection wound, but without adequate blood flow, possibly due to collapsed veins, it is easy for an ulcer to form.

Endocarditis

Endocarditis is an infection of the heart valves. It is caused by bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that enter the bloodstream during the use of IV drugs. The bacteria then builds up around the heart valves, weakening them and the heart muscle. Symptoms of endocarditis include fever, chest pains, fainting, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, heart murmurs, and congestive heart failure.  If endocarditis goes untreated, it can be fatal. 

Bacteremia 

Bacteremia is the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream and is a common risk of IV drug use because it can enter your system from dirty needles. Symptoms include a rapid heart rate, shaking, chills, fever, and extreme fatigue. Bacteremia can be fatal without treatment.

Flesh-Eating Disease

Also known as necrotizing fasciitis, this is a bacterial infection that enters the body through broken skin and results in the death of tissue and muscle. This infection spreads rapidly as it only takes about 3-5 days for the skin to break down completely. Symptoms include redness, swelling, extreme pain at the injection site, fever, and a red-purple and/or blue-gray rash. Flesh-eating disease is exceptionally dangerous, and antibiotic treatment may not always prevent death. 

Tetanus

As another form of bacterial infection, tetanus is when tetanus spores enter a wound and release bacteria after a scab has been formed. Tetanus spores tend to live on rusty surfaces and can be spread through using old damaged needles. Once the bacteria enters the bloodstream, symptoms include muscle spasms and rigidity, most commonly in the neck and jaw. This infection can also be fatal if not treated properly.

Hepatitis 

Hepatitis is classified as an inflammation of the liver. There are multiple different hepatitis viruses, hepatitis-B and hepatitis-C are two of the most commonly seen in IV drug users. 

Hepatitis-B (HBV) is spread by blood-to-blood contact, typically when two individuals share a needle. A Hepatitis-B infection can be short-term or chronic, and chronic HBV can cause severe liver damage, scarring of the liver, and death from liver failure. This infection is spread easily and is much more infectious than other viruses, like HIV.

Hepatitis C (HCV) is also spread from blood-to-blood contact and is very infectious. This infection can be chronic but asymptomatic, or chronic-active which means the disease will develop over a long period of time. For some users, it may take decades for the disease to fully develop. While asymptomatic HCV may be cleared by the body without medication, if an IV drug user has had this virus before, they are more susceptible to catching the infection multiple times over the course of their life.

The general symptoms of both hepatitis B and C include fatigue, nausea, mild fever, muscle aches, dark-colored urine, and jaundice.

Find Your Path to Sobriety with Never Alone Recovery

There are many risks of IV drug use, and no drug is worth risking your life over. The team at Never Alone Recovery is here to help you down the path to recovery by offering free drug rehab placement nationwide. If you are struggling with finding a drug rehab near you that meets your needs, contact Never Alone Recovery today for more information.


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