What Is Intravenous Drug Use?

ntravenous drug use involves injecting a substance into a vein using a syringe. This method of administration produces rapid and heightened effects because it bypasses the process of first pass metabolism that all orally administered drugs undergo, in which the drug must first be absorbed in the intestines, carried to the liver and subjected to hepatic metabolic processing before reaching the bloodstream. Injecting a drug allows it to enter the bloodstream immediately, which increases the speed of delivery to the brain. The effects can often be felt within a minute of injecting the drug.

Due to the rapidly felt, intensely rewarding effects, shooting up a drug such as heroin can raise the user’s risk of developing an addiction, as well as the likelihood of experiencing overdose.

Any method of drug injection – be it intravenous, intramuscular or subcutaneous – can result in a slew of harmful health effects that may include :

  • Inflamed and/or collapsed veins.
  • Puncture marks / track lines.
  • Skin infection – abscesses, cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis.
  • Bacteria on the cardiac valves, endocarditis, and other cardiovascular infections.
  • Swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs secondary to poor peripheral blood flow.

Other Dangers

While the above are general injection-related health effects, there are some other dangers common to drugs prepared with many adulterant chemicals, binders and other toxic substances. Black tar heroin, for example, which is named after its tar-like consistency, contains a large amount of additives and contaminants 3. These can cause local inflammation, clog blood vessels and contribute to widespread damage to the following organs:

  • Liver.
  • Kidneys.
  • Lungs.
  • Brain.

Because chronic, repeated injection of drugs such as heroin may lead to venous sclerosis, or a loss of veins to inject in, users will often switch to injecting intramuscularly or subcutaneously as opposed to intravenously. This increase in intramuscular injection can lead to the following dangers:

  • Necrotizing fasciitis: A serious skin infection caused by bacteria that kills tissue in the body. This can cause a user to lose his or her limbs.
  • Wound botulism: The bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, which enters a wound caused by needle puncture, can lead to paralysis and death.
  • Gas gangrene: This potentially fatal infection is often caused by Clostridium perfringens, and can lead to tissue death.
  • Tetanus: Caused by Clostridium tetani, this infection can cause lockjaw, problems swallowing, rigid muscles in the abdomen, and stiffness in the neck.
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