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Health Risks of Intravenous Drug Use


Most people recognize that intravenous drug use is dangerous by itself, simply because it involves injecting oneself with toxic chemicals. Besides the obvious risks of untrained individuals injecting themselves with anything, intravenous drug users are also at high risk for developing a number of infections and diseases.

The list below includes diseases as well as viral and bacterial infections that intravenous drug users are at risk for contracting or developing.

  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a retrovirus that can lead to the development of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) where the virus severely attacks a person’s immune system. AIDS is always fatal although its progression can be delayed through a combination of drug therapies. HIV can be spread through sharing syringes or preparatory materials (rinse water, cottons, spoons, etc.) with someone who is infected with HIV.
  • Hepatitis B is an infection that affects the liver, and usually goes away by itself. However, intravenous drug users can contract this infection by sharing infected needles.
  • Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver, and can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. Intravenous drug users are at risk if they use needles or preparatory materials that have been exposed to hepatitis C.
  • Tuberculosis is an airborne infection that usually affects the lungs but can attack the kidneys, the spine, or the brain. If left untreated, tuberculosis can be fatal. Intravenous drug use puts people at high risk for developing tuberculosis, particularly if they share or reuse needles.
  • STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), especially syphilis and gonorrhea, are commonly seen among intravenous drug users. Gonorrhea is an infection that can cause pelvic inflammatory disease as well as infertility in both men and women. It also raises the risk of someone contracting HIV. Syphilis is a bacterial infection that raises the risk of developing HIV, and can cause permanent organ damage and death if left untreated. Intravenous drug users are at high risk for developing these for three main reasons: 1) many drug addicts support their habit through sex; i.e. prostitution, and these behaviors often lead to the transmission of STDs; 2) when people are high, they often make risky sexual choices, which can lead to contracting an STD; 3) These diseases can also be transmitted through blood that remains on shared needles.
  • Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart, and can damage or destroy heart valves. Contaminated needles and preparatory materials raise the risk of developing endocarditis even if a heart is otherwise healthy.
  • Gangrene is when body tissue dies because shorted blood flow or a bacterial infection. Gas gangrene, which is most commonly seen in intravenous drug users, is often fatal and can result in amputation. Bacteria that cause gangrene can infect a needle, and that is how many intravenous drug users contract gas gangrene.
  • Cotton fever is a syndrome that’s caused by bacteria. It often mimics sepsis, and doesn’t usually require medical treatment. It is almost always seen in intravenous drug users who filter their drugs through cotton.
  • Candidal infections are infections of the skin and body orifices that are caused by the Candida fungus. Intravenous drug users are at risk if needles, preparatory materials, or area they use drugs in have come in contact with the Candida fungus.
  • Wound botulism is a serious infection that is caused when the Clostridium botulinum bacteria enters an open wound. It causes troubled breathing, which can lead to passing out and death. Wound botulism is most commonly seen in people who inject black tar heroin.
  • Skin abscesses are skin infections that result in pus collecting in tissue cavities. In intravenous drug users, it is often caused by repeatedly injecting drugs into the same area.
  • Necrotizing fasciitis is a life threatening complication of injecting drugs, which is caused by contact with a combination of bacteria that are commonly seen in drug users. It can result in severe pain, shock, amputations, and death.

Intravenous drug use is a serious problem that can result in many health problems, including diseases and infections that pose both a personal and public safety problem. If you or someone you know is an intravenous drug user, there are many resources available to obtain sterile syringes and preparatory equipment as well as available help to quit using drugs.

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Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs · Tags: infection, intravenous drug use, needles is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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