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“Shooting Up”: The Dangers of Intravenous (IV) Drug Use

syringe on blue background - IV

There are a number of different ways a person can abuse drugs. Drugs can be smoked, snorted, taken orally, or injected. Injection of a drug into a vein produces an intense high almost instantaneously since the drug immediately enters the bloodstream, speeding its delivery to the brain. The extremely intoxicating effects of intravenous (IV) drug use often cause the user to become addicted to the drug more quickly and leave them more vulnerable to a significant number of health risks or a fatal outcome.

Commonly Injected Drugs

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 13 million people inject drugs. Most of those are IV drug users, with a small number of people using the drugs by inserting the needle under their skin (subcutaneous) or into a muscle (intramuscular). Almost all types of drugs can be used by injection. Even prescription medications that come in tablet form can be injected after they are crushed into powder and mixed with liquid.

The most common drugs for IV use include:

  • Heroin (other opioids including fentanyl, buprenorphine, and Talwin)
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Crystal methamphetamines
  • Opiates
  • Prescription painkiller medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone
  • Prescription amphetamine-type stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin

Blood-Borne Diseases

According to The Journal of Addictive Diseases, the most harmful method of using drugs is injection. Intravenous drug use is often the cause of blood infections that are transmitted from person to person when they are exposed to contaminated blood, such as through needle sharing or recycling.

Blood-borne diseases include:

  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
  • HBV (hepatitis B)
  • HCV ( hepatitis C)
  • TB (Tuberculosis)
  • Bacterial Endocarditis (bacterial heart infection that causes inflammation of the interior lining of the heart and can damage heart valves)

IV Use and Infections

Using drugs intravenously can result in many different types of infections. One of the most common types is staphylococcus (staph) infections. The first sign of this type of infection is a small red bump that resembles a spider bite or a pimple. A staph infection can spread to the lungs and cause dangerous complications.

Infections in the bone, called musculoskeletal infections, can also develop. These include conditions such as osteomyelitis, septic arthritis, and joint infections.

Additional types of infections related to IV drug use include:

  • Cellulitis
  • Abscesses
  • Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease)
  • Tetanus
  • Septic thrombophlebitis
  • Botulism

All of these types of infections are extremely dangerous and can result in serious complications and in some cases coma or death.

More Dangers of IV Drug Use

When IV drug users continually use the same injection site, the area becomes inflamed, infected, and very painful. Often the skin around the site has a dark pigmentation. The area can become scarred, bruised, or develop lesions. Sometimes the vein collapses. This causes damage to the vein’s lining and can lead to the formation of blood clots or a permanently blocked vein. To prevent this from happening, some drug users begin injecting drugs into other areas of their body such as their groin, neck, feet, or hands.

A few additional dangers of intravenous drug use include:

  • Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI): This occurs when the flow of blood from the heart to the legs becomes obstructed. According to a study by Research in Nursing and Health published by NCBI, 87.7 percent of intravenous drug users were symptomatic.
  • Thrombosis: A blood clot forms in the veins and causes a blockage or damage. The clot can travel through the bloodstream to the heart or lungs and may be fatal.
  • Substance Use Disorder: The person becomes addicted to the drug.
  • Damage to the liver, including cirrhosis and liver cancer caused by hepatitis.

Increased Risk of Overdose

The risk of an overdose substantially increases when drugs are intravenously injected directly into the body. One of the main reasons for this is because users are not able to correctly gauge how much of the drug they are injecting because of the intensity and quickness of the drug’s effects. Depending on the substance taken, an overdose can result in serious health problems, coma, or death.

There is Help Available

If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, there is help available. Call and speak to a trained professional at Canyon Vista Recovery Center in Mesa, Arizona. Canyon Vista provides a comprehensive clinical program designed to help you heal and to give you the knowledge and tools you need as you travel the path to a clean and sober life.

Learn more about programs offered at Canyon Vista Recovery Center, Mesa, AZ drug treatment.
Contact us at
(888) 979-1840

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