The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 16 million people worldwide inject intravenous drugs. Now enter the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which in 2014 reported that 3.3% of persons living in the United States had injected drugs at some point in their lives. That might not sound like much, but when you consider that equate to over 10 million, you start to get an idea of the scope of the problem
The truth is, most of us are not injecting drugs. But we probably have known one or more people in our lives who have. And we always know those people…why? Because of the tell-tale signs that intravenous drug use has on the body – the scars, the sores, the bruises. But what is actually taking place when people inject drugs, that seems to do so much damage?
There are three methods of injecting drugs – using a vein, a muscle, or occasionally, the tissue just under the skin (skin popping). The vein is the faster way to a high; the muscle and skin popping methods are a bit slower.
Skin popping can be achieved using high-potency opiates and cocaine. While the high is delayed compared to vein injection, the duration of the high may be considerably longer. Skin popping cocaine results in a bruise, due to its vein-constricting properties, along with hemorrhage near the site of the injection. Skin popping in general causes abscesses and scars, instead of the customary track marks. It can be done deliberately, or can be the result of the needle missing its target.
This injection technique puts the user at great risk for infection, and as well as necrotizing cellulitis, in which the skin tissue begins to die. It’s also known as flesh-eating disease, and can result in amputation and/or death. Injecting drugs which are impure, such as black tar heroin, has been known to cause these sorts of problems in high numbers.
Like skin popping, injecting drugs intravenously has a high risk of infection. Vein-scarring is simply caused by the direct use of injection paraphernalia, and becomes worse when needles are reused multiple times. This effect, in addiction to the accumulation of toxins, is what causes track marks. Prolonged intravenous activity can result in collapsed veins, in which the lining of the vein becomes swollen due to repeated injury. If arterial damage occurs at injection sites, hemorrhaging may occur.
Intramuscular injection is often used for performance-enhancing drugs, such as anabolic steroids. Like all injections, using non-sterile equipment, impure product, or failing to properly cleanse skin may result in infection when bacteria and/or microbes enter the site. Also, cellulitis and abscesses can occur, as well as destruction of tissue.
All intravenous drug users are at a high-risk for developing sepsis, or blood poisoning. When this occurs, infection garnered at the site spreads into the blood stream. Without treatment, the infection can spread to vital organs, causing organ failure and death.
Regardless of which injection method is used, injecting drugs is especially hazardous, due to the increased chances of overdose, as well as any number of infections or inflammatory responses. In addition, those who share needles are at a higher risk for HIV and Hepatitis C.
If you or someone you know is injecting illegal drugs, please seek help immediately.