injecting drugs

Injecting Drugs: What Are the Dangers?

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

In the rural context of California’s Central Valley, rates of injection drug use are among the highest in the nation.

Because of the many dangers inherent in intravenous drug use, a bill is currently in the works here in California (AB 186) that will make it possible to create facilities for addicts to inject drugs under the supervision of medical professionals. There would be clean needles and emergency care available.

It would take effect in 8 counties for a test period: Alameda, Fresno, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Mendocino, San Francisco, San Joaquin and Santa Cruz.

Even with a bill that offers safe injection sites, this is not the final answer to the many dangers of IV drug use. At best it would be a stopgap.

There is a need to get people off the drugs that are taking their lives. This doesn’t happen simply by giving them safe places to use drugs. It happens with professional treatment that gets to the root of the addiction and offers evidence-based methods of recovery treatment.

But there still needs to be a desire for a person to get clean. One way this might come is when drug addicts see the dangers they are putting themselves in when they inject drugs into their veins. Beyond the myriad psychological and behavioral dangers, injecting drugs has physical dangers unique to the practice.

What is it?

Intravenous drug use involves injecting a substance into a vein using a syringe. Called shooting up or injecting (or shoot, spike, boot, or slam), it’s preferred by many drug users because it has a quicker and stronger effect. Basically, for drugs get you high when once they hit the bloodstream.

If you swallow a drug, it has to go through the stomach and intestines and even liver before getting into the blood, which takes it to its final destination, the brain. With shooting up, the drugs are immediately in the bloodstream so the effects are felt in a matter of seconds. Even inhaling through the nostrils (snorting) does not have as quick of an outcome. Heroin, cocaine, crack, and meth are the most commonly injected drugs.

What are the dangers unique to injecting drugs?

Viral and Bacterial Infection
Your body has natural filters and barriers to many diseases. However, when a person introduces drugs straight into the bloodstream, there is a risk of many bacterial and viral diseases bypassing those natural disease preventions. Infections of this nature include botulism, Tetanus, Cellulitis, Staph, HIV, Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B, among many others.

Skin Popping
Skin popping has become a more widely used injection method. The user will intentionally miss a vein and the go directly under the skin. This can cause abscesses or cellulitis and could lead to blood poisoning.

Track Marks
A track mark is a discoloration, or non-healed puncture wound, that comes from repeat injecting in the same spot. In and of themselves, there is not much danger to a track mark if they are allowed to heal. However, with the stigma of drug use, or the desire to simply hide an addiction, people try to disguise their track marks because they are an obvious sign of shooting up. This could lead to using dangerous injection locations such as the neck, groin area, or feet.

Vein Collapsing
If an IV drug user continues to return to the same vein for injections, uses blunt needles, bad technique, or certain irritating drugs, they are nearly guaranteed to get collapsed veins. Possible permanent damage from collapsed veins includes stroke risk, cardiovascular problems, and kidney disease.

The speed and amount of drugs that enter a person’s system from a syringe make injecting drugs one of the most dangerous ways to get high. Because there are so many variables and lack of control with illicit drugs (purity levels, etc.), accidental overdoses happen all the time.

Bigger Issues

The reality is, yes. If someone is shooting up, we want them to do it as safely as possible. To always use sharp, clean needles, and to refuse to share them. However, these people are still playing with fire. There is no “safe” way to inject drugs. It is a dangerous activity that all too often leads to death. And before that happens, it will most likely destroy much of what a person cares about.

Injecting drugs is such a powerful and addictive encounter that often it’s the toughest habit for people to kick. But recovery is absolutely possible. Help from a qualified addiction treatment center is your best option for getting free from addiction. If you or your loved one need help, call First Steps today. We are here to give you the best guidance on your treatment options and help you find freedom from addiction today. Call, 844-489-0836.

If you think you might have an addiction, but want a little more information, here is a good place to start: “I Need Help With My Addiction.”

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