Septicemia, also known as sepsis or blood poisoning, is a life-threatening condition whereby a large number of toxic bacterium are present in the blood stream. This condition occurs when a person has an infected site such as an injecting point, large wound or from some other conditions like a urinary tract disease. The infectious bacteria from the infection site enter the blood stream and overcome the body causing whole-body inflammation. Without immediate and aggressive treatment, septis may develop into multiple organ dysfunction and death.
Intravenous drug users are at a high risk of developing sepsis due to the use of a dirty or infected needle that is either shared with someone else or re-used. It can also occur when a drug user repeatedly injects into an inflamed and infected site or has already developed cellulitis. Septicemia may also be more likely to develop due to the poor overall health of injecting drug users.
Reducing Risk of Septicemia
Intravenous drug taking has many risks. Scarring of the veins is common, collapsed veins and abscessing of arteries and injection spots are often reported issues. Ulcers, cellulitis, tetanus, septicemia, and thrombosis are all very real complications of injecting drugs along with the potential risks of injecting toxic and harmful adulterant substances. Unsanitary conditions, sharing of needles and equipment, blunt needles and dirty water all contribute to disease and infection.
Intravenous drug users can reduce the risk of developing septicemia or other infections by ensuring that they use a new and clean needle every time they inject, treating any infections or sores on the body correctly, always using a clean injecting points and sterilizing the site of injection every time. If an addict is suffering from any health problems related to injecting drug use, they should seek medical attention immediately and use other methods of drug consumption such as smoking instead of injecting.
Symptoms of septicemia are varied but typically include the following:
- High fever
- Abrupt changes to mental status
- Areas of red or discolored skin
- Low blood pressure
- Respiratory distress or changes to breathing
- Increased heart rate
A person suffering from sepsis will appear unwell, pale and disoriented. In some cases, a person will begin to go into shock, which is symptomatic of their body undergoing a massive toxic infection. Anyone suspected of having septicemia should immediately seek medical treatment. The risk of sepsis damaging internal organs and causing death is very high.
Treatment for Septicemia
Aggressive treatment by doctors is required to treat septicemia due to the life-threatening aspect of the condition. A patient will be given high doses of strong antibiotics to kill the toxic bacteria in the body, the site of initial infection may be operated on and infected blood, pus and tissue removed. In some cases, patients will also have to be placed on a vasopressor to increase the blood pressure and strong pain killers and sedatives administered to treat pain. Patients may also require fluids to be administered, treatment in intensive care and even dialysis to treat this condition. Adequate nutrition is also required to ensure a patient will fully recover.
The Problem of Injecting Drugs
Injecting drugs carries a very high risk of health problems. Diseases are easily contracted, spread and transmitted to others, abscesses, ulcers and other infections are frequent and tolerance and dependence to a drug happens easier for intravenous drug users. The additional problems of unknown quality, adulterant substances and impurities can also contribute to health problems. Serious efforts by governments and health workers is being done to reduce the risks associated with injecting drugs, which includes providing accurate and concise information about injecting drugs.
Injecting an illicit substance into any site on the body can have dire consequences but there are some especially serious risks associated with particular spots. Injecting into the neck, hands, feet and the groin can cause major long-term damage. These injection sites are also prone to developing sepsis more rapidly. Femoral injection is the process whereby an intravenous drug user injects into the femoral vein, which is located in the groin. This vein takes blood from the legs to the heart, and injecting into it is incredibly risky. The femoral vein is very close to the femoral artery, which is the main supply route of blood from the heart to the lower limbs, and the femoral nerve. If a user injects into the femoral artery instead of the vein, they will experience intense bleeding and without proper medical attention, may suffer significant blood loss. Hitting the femoral nerve can cause a person to experience severe pain and permanent damage to their legs. Injecting into this site increases the risk of contracting deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolus and abscesses.
Injecting into the hands or feet can potentially lead to many long term problems such as reduced circulation and gangrene. Feet and hands contain delicate veins and nerve endings that can be easily damaged by over injecting at the site or inexperience. Additionally, hands and feet are sites that are exposed to dirt, bacteria and infections more than other parts of the body, so extra care should be taken.
Sadly, injecting drug users are considered the most discriminated and marginalized of all drug users. Often, they are the victim of police brutality, harassment and substandard medical care. They are also likely to avoid legal authorities, health workers and others who may offer assistance. This can lead to very serious personal, physical and emotional problems for the drug user who may require intervention, but is too afraid to seek it out. Long-term and permanent damage can result from this marginalization.