What are the Dangers of Intravenous Drug Use?


Injecting is one of the most dangerous routes of administration of drugs. Users choose the intravenous (IV) method of drug use because of its ability to produce immediate effects, but the potential dangers of IV drug abuse are extreme. Overdose and death are much more likely as a result of IV drug use, as well as a slew of possible health consequences.

Intravenous drug use makes overdose much more likely. According to the World Health Organization, “People who use drugs, especially by injection, are at higher risk of dying from both acute and chronic diseases, many of which are related to their drug use, than people who do not use these drugs. Fatal overdose and infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other blood-borne viruses transmitted through shared needles and syringes are the most common causes of death in this group.” There is always the potential for drugs such as heroin to be much more potent than expected or to contain much stronger opioids such as fentanyl, leading to immediate overdose upon injection. The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior explains, “When injecting drugs directly into the body, the risk of overdose greatly increases. Abusers generally cannot accurately gauge how much of a substance they are injecting into their system, mostly because of the fast action and intensity of the resulting effects. Intravenous drug users are far more likely to accidentally overdose on a substance than are their counterparts who use more conservative methods of administration; overdoses can cause serious problems or even death depending on the substance.”

IV drug users are also at great risk for infections. According to the Semel Institute, “Skin infections are extremely common in intravenous drug abusers, with 11 percent of intravenous drug users reporting at least one abscess within the past six months. One study estimated that up to 89 percent of injectable substances sold on the street are contaminated with at least one pathogen, often bacteria and fungi, with 61 percent of heroin samples containing 160-37,000 organisms per gram.” Abscesses, infections, bloodborne diseases such as HIV and AIDS, are all possible results of IV drug use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, “Heroin often contains additives, such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk, that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage. Also, sharing drug injection equipment and having impaired judgment from drug use can increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.” There is no safe way to use illicit drugs intravenously. Additives in the drugs, non-sterile injection equipment, and many other factors combine to make IV drug use the most dangerous route of drug administration possible.

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