Intravenous drug use is a method of introducing a drug into the body with a hollow needle and syringe which is pierced through the skin into the body. IV drug use can also be referred to as shooting or slamming. This method of taking drugs is favored by some users because the full effects of the drug are experienced very quickly, typically in five to ten seconds. This method bypasses first-pass metabolism in the liver, resulting in a higher bioavailability for many drugs than oral ingestion would, which gives a stronger effect from the same amount of the drug. This method, offering shorter, more intense high, can lead to dependency, both physically and psychologically.
Risks of Intravenous Drug Use
HIV Infections are commonplace with IV drug use. There are specific problems associated with this informal injection of drugs by non-professionals.
- Increased chance of infection caused by needle sharing and infection at the injection site, caused by lack of hygiene and a lack of technique
- Increased chance of overdose
- Scarring of the peripheral veins, or intravenous complications. IV drug use for an extended period may result in collapsed veins
- Increased chance of addiction
With IV drug abuse, skin and soft tissue bacterial infections are commonplace. This high rate of infection is due to:
- Injection of drugs into the fatty layer under the skin (skin popping)
- Leakage of drugs out of veins during the injection (extravasation)
- Tissue death due to toxic materials in drugs
- Increased numbers of bacteria on the skin surface
Signs of infections in an IV drug user usually present as areas of redness, warmth and tenderness (inflammation). These infections are caused due to the skin, venous and lymphatic systems being damaged by the frequent penetration of the skin, resulting in low-grade infection. When infected, the results are:
- Swelling due to blocked lymphatic vessels (Lymphoedema)
- Swollen lymph glands
- Darkly pigmented skin of the affected area
The infection sites, a majority of the time, affect the arms or legs, being that these areas are the most frequent injection spots.
Types of Drug Use Infections
- Skin ulcers
- Necrotising Fascilitis
- Septic Thrombophlebitis
- Heart valve infection (Endocarditis)
- HIV infection and AIDS
- Liver disease (Hepatitis)
Staph infections are the most common skin infections due to intravenous drug use. Staphyloccocus, or a staph infection, is a group of bacteria that can cause a multitude of diseases as a result of infection of various tissues of the body. With over 30 different types of staph, staph-related illness can range from mild and requiring no treatment to severe and potentially life threatening. MRSA is a staph skin infection causing redness, swelling, and painful areas on the skin. Other symptoms could include drainage of pus, fever, skin abscess, or warmth around the infected area. Minor skin infections can be treated with antibiotic ointment. If abscesses are present, they should be surgically drained. More serious and potentially fatal infections are treated with intravenous antibiotics. Studies have shown that IV drug users have an increased incidence of infection compared to control subjects.