Increased Risk of Disease and Infections

Illicit drug use has inherent risks that includes serious health problems. Drug abuse can cause heart disease, respiratory issues, liver disease and be the linked to other health problems such as tetanus, sexually transmitted diseases and blood borne diseases including Hepatitis and AIDS. Drug users are at higher risks of contracting infectious and harmful diseases due to a lowered immune system and the fact that people using illegal substances often engage in high risk behaviors and activities. These infectious diseases can range from treatable conditions such as herpes to terminal diseases.

Injection Drug Use

Intravenous drug administration increases the risk of contracting a serious and sometimes incurable disease exponentially. HIV, AIDS and Hepatitis B & C are the most common blood-borne diseases that are linked to drug use. The reason that these diseases can be so easily spread is because people share needles and drug equipment. Infected blood is drawn into the syringe and then injected along with the drug by the next user of the syringe.

Of all the ways to administer drugs, injection carries the most risks as it bypasses the body’s natural filtering mechanisms against disease and bacteria. Injection drug use is the preferred method of ingestion by people because the effects of the drug are felt quicker and the high is more intense. However, the effects are felt for a shorter period and injection drug use can lead to dependency quicker than other methods. Heroin, cocaine, crack and methamphetamine are the most commonly injected street drugs.

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, 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, but even these do not safeguard against all diseases or infections.


Drug use has long been linked to the spread of HIV and AIDS viruses. Over 30 million people live with HIV/AIDS worldwide. Estimates suggest that over 16 million people world wide inject drugs and 3 million of those people are infected with HIV. HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. There is no cure for the disease, AIDS but there are some treatments available for the virus, HIV. 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.

HIV/AIDS is preventable, especially in relation to intravenous drug administration. Drug users should follow safe practices of using clean, new needles every time, no sharing of equipment and adhering to safe injection methods. HIV is contracted when an infected person’s blood or other bodily fluid comes in contact with the blood, broken skin, or mucous membranes of an uninfected person. Injection drug use is one of the most high risk HIV/AIDS related activities that a person can be engaged in. When people share needles and drug equipment, the virus can easily be drawn up into the syringe and injected into the body along with the drugs. Infected blood can also be present on hands, cookers, filters, tourniquets or rinse water. Needles and drug equipment should never be shared for this reason. HIV/AIDS can also be spread through unsafe sex which is unfortunately a commonly reported risk-behavior that people under the influence will engage in.


Hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) are viral diseases that destroy liver cells and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Over 2 billion people world wide are infected with hepatitis. Hepatitis B is 50 – 100 times more infectious than HIV. Unlike HIV, the hepatitis virus can survive outside of the body for at least 7 days during which time the virus can still be contracted by an uninfected person Hepatitis is a common disease amongst intravenous drug users because of the infection rate and the chronic incidence of unsafe needle use.

The hepatitis virus causes severe inflammation of the liver which has long term complications. The onset of the disease is insidious and often is undiagnosed for a long time. Passing the disease on to others is a serious risk, especially for those who are intravenous drug users. Research has shown that the risk of infection for hepatitis is extremely high in the first year of injection drug use.

As with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis can be contracted through sharing not only needles but infected drug equipment like filters, cooking equipment and tourniquets. Individuals should use sterilized equipment in every incidence of intravenous injection to reduce the risk of contacting this harmful disease.

Respiratory Disease

The prevalence of respiratory disorders amongst drug users who smoke substances is extremely high. Smoking any substance exposes the lungs to the drug but also to other toxic combustible substances that the drug may be mixed with. The presence of any substance in the lungs can cause serious complications such as pneumonia, asthma, pulmonary edema, pulmonary hemorrhage or bronchitis. Individuals may experience chest pain, wheezing, exasperation of existing asthma and chronic coughing.

Methamphetamine and crack cocaine pose significant risks to people who smoke the drugs. Research has shown that long term use of meth or crack can permanently damage lung tissue and cause blockages and build up. When this occurs, a person will find it harder to breathe, they will be weakened and have a loss of energy. They may violently cough which can cause tears in the esophagus or put strain on heart and lungs. Continued drug use will only make these conditions worse.

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Increased Risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases are often associated with drug and alcohol use. This is because individuals who are under the influence of a substance often leads a person to be involved in activities that pose a greater risk of infection. When a person takes a drug or drinks alcohol, they often feel disinhibited and make rash decisions. They may choose to take a risk, to be impulsive and to have unprotected sex with someone, or multiple people.

There are many different sexually transmitted diseases that have differing health implications. Some infections are treatable such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and genital herpes. Although treatments are available, late diagnosis may lead to infection of the reproductive system, inflammation of the pelvic region and in some cases, infertility. Other diseases that can be spread by unsafe sex include HIV and hepatitis.