Infections from Intravenous Drug Use

What is Intravenous Drug Use?

Intravenous injections rapidly admit drugs into the body by way of inserting a needle into a peripheral vein in the arm or leg.  Otherwise known as shooting, slamming, banging, blasting, or mainlining, intravenous injections usually result in a much more rapid availability of the drug into the system.  Intravenous injection also leads to a greater risk of dependency and infection from dirty needles or usage of toxic drugs.

Why Does IV Drug Use Produce Infection?

When it comes to IV drug use and infection, there are many factors to consider. 

Bacterial infections are caused when germs on the skin or within a contaminated needle are pushed through the skin and deep into the body. Injecting a substance into the skin bypasses the usual barriers of entry that are body uses to protect us. 

If infection-causing bacteria reach blood vessels, it can result in infection of the widespread deep-tissue, veins, or vascular tissue. 

Those who inject subcutaneously or engage in “skin popping” are at higher risk of developing infected blisters, subcutaneous abscesses, or pustules.

When users share needles or other injecting paraphernalia, blood-borne infections like HIV and Hepatitis C are common. 

Those who live in poor conditions and engage in intravenous drug use usually have a lack of hygiene and poor nutritional habits that contribute to the risk of getting other infections from shooting up, such as tuberculosis.

Staph is the deadliest skin infection.  With over thirty varieties, staph infection symptoms can range from mild to life endangering.

Commonly Injected Drugs: The most commonly injected drugs are heroin, amphetamines, barbiturates, buprenorphine, benzodiazepine, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

Cause of Bacterial Infections (Skin and Soft tissue infections)

Bacterial infections often arise from injecting a needle into fatty tissue beneath the surface layer of skin.  Veins that leak during injection along with toxic drug usage can cause infection as well as tissue morbidity.  The presence of bacteria on the skin surface while injecting can also result in bacterial infection.

Types of Bacterial Infections

  • Abscess
  • Botulism
  • Cellulitis
  • Heart Valve Infection
  • HIV Infection – AIDS
  • Liver Disease
  • Tetanus

The spread of the HIV virus across China, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe closely corresponds with the rapid rise in intravenous or IV drug use.

Signs of Infection

If an infection is present in bodily areas that are frequently injected, the injection site will become tender, warm to the touch, and red. A frequent pattern of injection causes infections that lead to discoloration, scarring, and swollen lymph glands.

A person with swollen lymph glands that has a high fever and heavy sweats may need immediate medical attention. These needle infection symptoms are signs of an overdose or a toxic reaction to a substance.

Bodily areas that are frequently injected often become tender, red, and warm to the touch.  Infections are primarily caused by a frequent pattern of injection that leads to scarring, discoloration, and swollen lymph glands.  High fever and heavy sweats accompanying swollen lymph glands may require immediate medical attention due to the possibility of an overdose or toxic reaction to some substance.

Problems Associated with Injectable Drugs

People who abuse drugs will often do so in an unsterile environment. The drugs they inject may be filled with bacteria, and they may not cleanse their skin before inserting a needle. Often, illicit drugs are created and mixed in unsanitary conditions and may have unknown chemical additives. 

For these reasons, infections at the injection site are prevalent. 

It’s believed that standard soft-tissue infections are the most common cause of hospital admissions among intravenous drug users. This may result in wounds that won’t heal, abscesses, or more severe infections.

The infections from IV drug use can be quite serious—they can rage beneath the skin and cause swelling, pain, and even tissue death. 

The most commonly injected substances are heroin, amphetamines, barbiturates, buprenorphine, benzodiazepine, cocaine, and methamphetamine. 

Other Dangers of Intravenous Drug Use

While infections are serious, there are other health hazards attributed to drugs prepared with adulterant chemicals, binders, and other toxic substances. 

For example, black tar heroin is named after its tar-like consistency. It contains many additives and contaminants that can cause local infection, blood clots, and damage to the following organs:

  • Lungs
  • Kidneys
  • Brain
  • Liver

Repeated use of IV drugs such as heroin can lead to venous sclerosis (a loss of veins to inject in). Because of this, many users will switch to injecting intramuscularly or subcutaneously instead of intravenously. 

Intramuscularly injecting drugs can lead to the following health problems:

Wound botulism: Bacteria that enter a wound leads to paralysis and death

Necrotizing fasciitis: Bacteria that kills the tissue in the body causes a severe skin infection that causes the user to lose their limbs

Tetanus: Infection caused by Clostridium tetani causes lockjaw, problems swallowing, stiffness in the neck, and rigid abdomen muscles

Gas gangrene: Infection caused by Clostridium perfringens entering the body and leads to tissue death

Burning Tree Can Help People with Chemical Addictions

Making the decision to get help does not mean you are weak.  The fact is that depending upon the type of addiction you are suffering from, many withdrawal symptoms require the special skills and monitoring of an addiction specialist to ensure your safe recovery.  Short-term rehab centers are not equipped to provide you with the expertise, programs, and most importantly, time you need to process new learning skills that will prevent you from falling back into relapse.  Long-term solutions require long-term care.  At Burning Tree, our addiction specialists can help you safely navigate through co-occurring disorders by utilizing a dual diagnosis approach to treating chemical dependency behaviors and mental disorders.  If you are ready to break the cycle of relapse and take hold of a new life, call us at Burning Tree today.


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