Typically, people with substance use disorders begin by smoking or ingesting a substance. However, as a person develops a tolerance to an abused drug, they may begin seeking a stronger and faster high. This can lead to intravenous injection—more commonly referred to as IV drug use.
In addition to the general health risks associated with substance abuse, IV drug use poses additional dangers. This makes the need for evidence-based addiction treatment even more immediate.
How Common Is IV Drug Use?
It is estimated that there are more than 11 million individuals engaged in IV drug use worldwide.
Heroin is the most commonly injected drug, but IV drug use may also involve cocaine, methamphetamines, amphetamines, buprenorphine, benzodiazepines, or barbiturates.
What Are Some of the Dangers Associated With IV Drug Use?
IV drug use has been linked to complications such as:
- Increased overdose risk. Overdose is a real possibility with any type of drug use, but IV drug use carries a higher overdose risk because it’s very difficult to accurately gauge how much of a substance is being injected into the body and because the drug’s effects appear rapidly.
- Skin infections. IV drug users often suffer from skin infections caused by contaminants in substances, the use of non-sterile equipment, and poor general hygiene. Cellulitis is the most common type of skin infection associated with IV drug use, but there are many others that can pose a significant health risk.
- Scarring. More than 75% of IV drug users have scars from needle tracks. The round or oval-shaped permanent scars known as “pop scars” are the most common and can stigmatize drug users even after sobriety.
- Collapsed veins. Repeated IV drug use can lead to collapsed veins that prevent blood from passing through the body as it should. In addition to being painful, this can lead to deep vein thrombosis.
- Septic arthritis. A joint infection that occurs when an infection travels through the bloodstream to a joint, septic arthritis causes significant mobility impairment and can be extremely painful. It requires antibiotics and surgical treatment to drain the infected joint fluid.
- Endocarditis. Typically, IV drug users will inject into veins that drain into the right side of the heart. This can lead to the right-side heart valves developing inflammation of the interior lining known as endocarditis. The condition can often be treated with antibiotics or surgery but can be life-threatening if it isn’t promptly diagnosed.
- Hepatitis C. A blood-borne infection, Hepatitis C can be spread when IV drug users share needles. Treatment for Hepatitis C can be difficult since users must follow a strict regime involving multiple pills per day for 12 to 24 weeks.
- Tetanus. Open wounds from IV drug use can allow the bacteria that cause tetanus to enter the body. Tetanus can lead to spasms in the back, neck, and chest, as well as lockjaw. Untreated tetanus can lead to broken bones, breathing problems, or death.
- HIV. HIV transmission is relatively rare but still a real risk if needles are being shared because the HIV virus can survive in a used syringe for up to 42 days. People who inject drugs currently account for about 10% of newly diagnosed HIV infections each year.
Do Harm Reduction Practices Eliminate the Need for Addiction Treatment?
Harm reduction programs for IV drug users often focus on reducing needle sharing, promoting sterile injection practices, and reducing the risk of accidental overdose. They are not a substitute for addiction treatment, but they can be useful in providing a nonjudgmental gateway to evidence-based care and information about the nature of substance use disorders.
For example, these programs encourage users to seek out HIV testing and treatment or to learn about their options for medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders.
How Can Waypoint Recovery Center Help?
Located in Cameron, South Carolina, Waypoint Recovery Center provides a full continuum of care for men and women with diagnosed substance use disorders—including treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression and PTSD. Our programs focus on promoting abstinence while building the foundation for a wellness-focused lifestyle and healthier relationships with loved ones.
After graduation from residential treatment, our clients have access to a wide range of continuing care services that support their transition back to independent living. To learn more about our services, contact our admissions representatives today.