Most commonly, diseases transmitted from drug abuse are caused by injection. Injecting drugs intravenously is the preferred method to use various drugs because the high is felt quicker and more strongly than if the same substance is smoked or snorted. Unfortunately, this method of drug abuse invites many more side effects than other forms of drug use — including terminal disease.
What Drugs are Injected?
Certain people are at increased risk of transmitted disease because their addiction commonly uses the injection method. While most drugs can be injected in some form, injection is commonly the method used for the following drugs: Heroin, cocaine, crack and methamphetamine.
The drugs are injected using small intravenous needles and equipment which can be — but should not be — shared among users. It is not uncommon for a group of individuals to split a portion of a drug like heroin among them by using the same needle for everyone. This needle sharing leads to disease transmission.
Facts About Injection Drug Abuse
In order to understand how common infection or disease from intravenous drug use is, we must first understand how many people are injecting drugs. In 2005, a study found that around 424 thousand American people were injecting drugs that year. With heroin use on a rise in recent years, it is predicted that number is even higher currently.
While intravenous drug injection is the most common method of injection drug use, it is not the only option. Drugs are injected through three methods: intravenous, subcutaneous or intramuscular. Intravenous refers to the most popular method of injecting a drug, using a main vein.
When the veins are too scarred or someone cannot find the vein, they may choose to inject drugs subcutaneously (into the skin) or intramuscular (into the muscle tissue) instead. All three methods of injection drug abuse have the ability to spread infection, illness and even bone disease.
Compared to other methods of getting high, such as smoking or snorting, injection is by far the most dangerous because of the existence of blood-borne disease. When a needle is used for drug injection, the user’s blood (even a small amount) may be drawn back into the needle and injected into the next user. If the first user has an infection or disease, the new user is likely to become infected. It is in this way that injection drug abuse becomes extremely common and extremely dangerous.
Most Common Diseases Transmitted From Drug Abuse
The diseases transmitted from injection drug abuse can range from almost any blood-borne illness or infection. However, some diseases are known to be common among people who inject drugs. The most common diseases include:
- HIV and AIDS: This is perhaps the most famous of drug-related diseases. More than 30 million people in the world are infected with HIV/AIDS and more than three million injection drug users are affected. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV can be treated and managed if discovered early enough, but once AIDS develops, there is no known cure. HIV/AIDS attacks the immune system and makes an infected person more prone to diseases such as cancer, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. Once someone is infected, the disease can be spread through pregnancy, needle-sharing and sexual activity. In addition to greatly increasing risk of illness, HIV/AIDS can ultimately lead to untimely death.
- Hepatitis: More than two billion people in the world are infected by hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Many people who have the disease do not show symptoms for months or even years and do not know they are infected. Hepatitis B and C are viral diseases which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis is considered one of the biggest risks associated with drug abuse and can live on equipment outside of the body for up to one week, making its spread very common.
- Sexually transmitted diseases: Gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes and syphilis are the most common sexually transmitted diseases among substance abusers. Poor impulse control resulting from drug or alcohol use often leads to engaging in unprotected sex or prostitution. Although treatment is available for most STDs, addicts may not know they are infected or do not care about getting treatment, since their life is consumed with obtaining drugs and remaining high.
- Septicemia: Blood poisoning is life-threatening if it is not addressed as quickly as possible. Addicts with infected injection sites, skin ulcerations (cellulitis), poor overall health or severe urinary tract infections who do not seek treatment may suffer rapidly spreading systemic infection, organ failure and death. Symptoms of septicemia include fever, joint pain, weakness, rapid heartbeat and breathing difficulties.
- Cirrhosis of the liver: Especially common to chronic alcoholics and those with hepatitis C, cirrhosis occurs when scar tissue consumes the liver and prevents it from functioning normally. A liver affected by cirrhosis has shrunk, hardened and ceased receiving the blood flow it needs to remain healthy. In cases of severe cirrhosis, only a liver transplant may save the patient’s life.
- Deep vein thrombosis: When blood clots form inside veins running through the thigh and lower legs, they can loosen, become an embolus and travel to arteries in the lungs. There, blood clots block the flow of blood to the lungs and cause pulmonary embolisms. A serious condition requiring emergency treatment, pulmonary embolisms can damage organs and cause death. Deep vein thrombosis occurs when addicts repeatedly inject drugs into their upper legs or thighs, generate scar tissue and collapse veins.
In addition to HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, injection drug abuse puts users at risk for additional health concerns. Other problems associated with injection drug abuse include:
- Staphylococcus aureu (MRSA)
- Sexually transmitted disease
- Bone disease
- Musculoskeletal infections
- Scarred or permanently damaged veins
- Nerve damage
How to Get Help for Injection Drug Abuse
If you or someone you love is injecting drugs, their risk for chronic illness is dangerous. Injection drug abuse, along with the addiction itself, involves many health hazards. Because drugs such as heroin and crack are most commonly injected, professional help is recommended to help people discontinue and recover from injection drug abuse.
Seek treatment in a program that combines medical help with the emotional and social support necessary for long-term addiction recovery. Call JourneyPure Emerald Coast today to learn about our individualized approach to injection drug abuse treatment.