Intravenous Drug Use
Understand intravenous (IV) drug use & its potential risks and dangers of disease and infection. Find out how drug addiction treatment can transform your life.
Injecting Drug Use
Many people who start taking drugs do not think they will ever inject drugs. They may smoke drugs such as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine and make promises to give up drugs if it ever gets to them injecting. But an addiction can take over a persons’ life and tolerance and dependence easily develops. Soon a person will need more drugs to get high and may begin to experience some of the negative side effects of smoking or snorting a drug. Then one day they will shoot up.
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.
Sadly, injecting drug users are considered the most discriminated and marginalized of all drug users. Often they are the victim of police brutality, harassment, sub-standard medical care and will 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 be the result of this marginalization.
Injecting a drug involves a relatively complex process from procurement to injection that requires the user to have a number of different tools available. Once the drug has been purchased, be it heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine, the kit needs to be assembled. An injecting kit will typically involve the hypodermic needle, flame from a lighter, candle or match; cooking implement which is either a spoon, tin lid from a drink, bottom of a soda can or tin foil; filter which is usually a cotton bud or cigarette filter; water and tourniquets. The drug will be placed on the cooking implement with some water and mixed well to dissolve. If the drug is to be heated, the cooking implement is placed over the flame and brought to a light boil. Once all the drug is dissolved, the filter is placed in the spoon, the drugs drawn up through the filter into the syringe which can then be injected into the vein. The vein is often located using the tourniquets.
Methamphetamine and cocaine are not usually heated before being injected and this can raise some serious health concerns of its own. Distilled, purified or boiled water should always be used to inject with as regular tap water can contain harmful bacteria. The site of injection should always be sterilized with an alcoholic wipe to reduce the risk of infection and needles should never be reused or shared with other people.
Injecting a drug 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 are sites that can cause major long term damage.
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 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 can have an increased 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 taking.
Neck injecting is a very dangerous way to ingest drugs. This site is not only difficult to inject but important arteries such as the carotid artery are located in this site close to veins. Missing the vein and hitting muscle is another risk of shooting at this site and infections in this area need to be closely monitored.
Disease and Infection
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, tetanus, cellulitis, 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. Infection rates can be reduced by using new needles every time and following safe injection methods. However, even these approaches do not safeguard against all diseases or infections.
Hepatitis and HIV are the most serious diseases that can be spread through unsafe injecting. Over 80 percent of people infected with the hepatitis C virus contracted it from unsafe injecting drug use. Hepatitis is a common disease among intravenous drug users because of the chronic incidence of unsafe needle use. Transmission of the disease can occur through sharing both needles and injecting drug equipment such as filters, cooking implements and tourniquets. Injecting drug use has long been linked to the spread of HIV and AIDS viruses. Individuals infected with HIV are at risk of contracting other, life threatening diseases because the virus weakens a persons immune system. Cancer, pneumonia, tuberculosis, gastrointestinal problems, neurological conditions and tumors are some of the known linked diseases.
Injecting a substance is preferred by some drug takers for the immediate and potent effects that this type of drug ingestion brings. The drug is experienced rapidly because it bypasses the body’s metabolism of the drug, which occurs in other methods. However, the intense high that is felt is shorter than for other methods and repeated dosing is one of the negative side effects of this type of drug use. Repeated dosing is known to contribute to serious levels of tolerance and dependence. Some people become hooked on the needle and the very sight of a needle can invoke a rush. The memories, the feelings and experiences associated with intravenous drug administration can all bring a user to feel high. The needle is associated with blissful feelings, euphoria, relaxation and excitement. These feelings are very tempting and addictive.
Law enforcement efforts are another reason that individuals may begin to inject drugs. Smoking drugs has a distinct smell and can easily be identified. In some nations, being caught with drug paraphernalia such as a crack pipe can carry severe penalties. Injecting a drug can be more discrete and drug cooking equipment can be discarded easily Tin foil, needles and tourniquets can be simply thrown in the bin after use where as many people who smoke drugs will carry their pipe on them.