What are the Health Risks of IV Drug Use?

Intravenous injection is the most dangerous way to take drugs. The immediate effects of the drug make IV use an extremely risky practice. The potential of overdose is much higher than with other routes of administration, and there is also an increased risk of other health complications such as bacterial and viral infection.
The most pronounced and immediate danger of IV drug use is the risk of overdose. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, “A heroin overdose occurs when a person uses enough of the drug to produce a life-threatening reaction or death. Heroin overdoses have increased in recent years. When people overdose on heroin, their breathing often slows or stops. This can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term mental effects and effects on the nervous system, including coma and permanent brain damage.” Due to the immediate effect of IV use, as well as the recent incorporation of powerful opioids such as fentanyl into heroin, an irreversible overdose can occur rapidly.
There are also a variety of other health complications that result from IV drug use. The NIDA explains, “Medical consequences of chronic injection use include scarred and/or collapsed veins, bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves, abscesses (boils), and other soft-tissue infections. Many of the additives in street heroin may include substances that do not readily dissolve and result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in vital organs. Immune reactions to these or other contaminants can cause arthritis or other rheumatologic problems.” Even if a person is careful about how much they use, they are still at an increased risk of overdose and major health consequences.  
Infectious blood-borne viruses are another major risk that arises from injecting. HIV and Hepatitis B and C often occur from sharing fluids or injection equipment. These viruses can then be passed on to others. There is no completely safe way to inject substances. There will always be some risk of developing major health problems.

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