Track marks are lesions on a person’s body that are caused by intravenous drug use. Track marks may become less noticeable with time, but severe scarring usually does not go away without cosmetic surgery, such as repeated laser treatments. In fact, research has shown that more than half of IV drug users have visible scars after five years of abstinence. These scars can be found anywhere on the body, but the arms are the most common location as they are utilized for injection purposes most frequently.
Prevention of track mark scars mostly consists of avoiding IV drug use at all costs. Persons who are administering opioids or other substances in this way are urged to seek professional treatment as soon as possible to avoid long-term scarring, permanent damage to veins, and other adverse health complications.
What Is IV Drug Use?
Intravenous (IV) drug use is characterized by administering a drug through a needle or syringe. While some users choose to inject drugs into the muscle or just under the skin—a practice also known as “popping”—many people will “shoot” them into their muscle or directly into the bloodstream. The most frequently sought-after veins are those in the soft inside of the elbow, although many other locations may be used.
If a person injects into their arm, it’s typically the opposite of their dominant hand, meaning that the left arm is the most popular location. However, many people will also have another person inject the drug into their other arm to work around this issue. Other common areas include the hand, foot, groin, or leg. Some individuals choose different sites so that they can more easily conceal track marks.
Long-term users may be forced to move administration to a new location once their primary site becomes too inflamed, scarred, or otherwise unusable to continue receiving injections. Once the drug is placed into the syringe, the user selects a vein for administration. They will then tie a belt, rubber tubing, or another type of tourniquet tightly around a site near the vein of choice, which causes the vein to swell, making it easier to access for injection. The tie is removed after the needle is securely in the vein.
What Kinds of Drugs Are Commonly Injected?
There are several routes of administration in which drugs can be abused. Heroin is the most notorious regarding injection, but many other substances can be delivered in this way, including the following:
- PCP (Angel Dust)
- Prescription/illicit opioids
- Prescription stimulants
Like cocaine and heroin (otherwise known as a “speedball”), some drugs are frequently abused together. In recent years, throughout the U.S., there has also been an increasing number of reports of potent opioids (e.g., fentanyl) being combined with these common drugs of abuse. Injection of any of these substances is extremely hazardous and can rapidly lead to a lethal overdose.
What Causes Track Marks?
As noted, track marks are the scars that remain after an individual injects a drug. These marks can be caused by the following:
Chronic Abuse – Extended and excessive use of the same injection site increases the risk of a track mark scar developing. Over time, as a person frequently injects in the same location, the vein becomes increasingly damaged, and scars and other lesions accumulate and worsen.
Old Used Needles – If an individual repeatedly uses the same needle, the tip will gradually become dull. Upon injection, this places extra pressure on the vein and can cause additional damage.
Impure Drugs – The majority of illicit drugs include adulterants and impurities. These may result from shoddy manufacturing processes or because the drug was purposely cut with other substances. The accumulation of these toxins is often responsible for the darker color typically seen in track marks.
Presentation of Track Marks
Track marks are often the most obvious signs that a person is an IV drug user, but their appearance can vary. Track marks may look different depending on what stage of healing is occurring. What this means is that some people may have new lesions layered upon or alongside older scars. More recent marks appear as puncture wounds, scabs, or bruises. Older marks may appear raised and discolored (darker) compared to surrounding skin.
IV drug users may conceal these marks by wearing long sleeves or pants, even in warm weather, or getting tattoos on and around the injection sites.
Other Dangers of IV Drug Use
Track marks are not the only form of damage that can occur to an IV drug user’s skin, tissues, and internal organs. An individual can also develop the following:
- Bacterial/viral infections
- Cardiac problems
- Collapsed veins
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Necrotizing fasciitis
- Organ damage
Injection drug users also face an increased risk of blood-borne infections, such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C.
How To Overcome IV Drug Addiction
Addiction to drugs such as heroin is most effectively addressed using medically-assisted detox and long-term, comprehensive treatment. These programs, including those offered by Just Believe Recovery, feature counseling, behavioral therapy, group support, dual diagnosis, and various other modalities intended to treat the root of a person’s addiction and teach them how to sustain long-lasting sobriety and wellness.