Safety and IV Drug Use
Intravenous (IV) drug use is a high-risk activity. While there are legal and illegal reasons for “mainlining” a drug, if done incorrectly–or in unsanitary conditions–this process can pose severe health risks. Understanding how to find the most accessible vein to inject, or locate a vein map for IV drug use, can be complicated.
If you know you have a problem with IV drug use or are concerned you’re unsafe with your service, there is help. Reach out to us at 623-263-7371. In addition to programs aimed at improving safety among drug users, rehabilitation or therapy can help get you back to sobriety if you are ready to take that step.
While quitting is always the safest option for IV drug users, some may not be ready to take such a major step. Learning how to inject safely can mitigate the harm your addiction causes.
Why do People Inject Drugs?
Drug users choose injection as their primary means of getting high for a simple reason—injecting a drug directly into your system is the fastest way to get the substance to act on your brain.
Many users prefer this method because of the immediate high, typically accompanied by a “rush” or euphoria wave. As opposed to swallowing or smoking a drug, injection allows a user to avoid waiting for the effect to kick in a while simultaneously maximizing the drug’s potency.
However, “shooting up” meth, coke, heroin, or crack opens the door to a world of potential health risks. Bacterial and viral infections are common in IV drug users and can include HIV, hepatitis, and other serious diseases.
Users try to figure out the most accessible veins to inject and find the easiest place to shoot up when veins are gone. It can be a messy, painful process. There are vein maps for shooting up, which can provide information on where and how to use a needle safely. Keep in mind. These sources are aiming at people who want guidance for medically required injections for various disorders.
After too much use, a vein can collapse or develop scar tissue that renders it useless, which is why addicts may inject themselves in various places. This repeated puncturing of the skin and veins can often lead to open wounds and sores liable to be infected.
This process can become part of an addict’s life. Frequent users may even experience “needle fixation,” which is an addiction to the ritual of shooting up itself.
In any case, there are significant dangers involved with injected drug use. If you feel unable to quit, it is still crucial to use the safest practices possible.
The Importance of Harm Reduction
Drug safety is all about minimizing risks. Harm reduction is a concept that “accepts, for better and or worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.”
It also recognizes that people are individuals. Prior experience with substance abuse varies, as does a person’s current life—medically, financially, and socially. Therefore, harm reduction seeks to realize “that every individual is unique, and what works for one person to reduce harm may exacerbate issues for another.”
Pretending that IV drug use isn’t rampant in society doesn’t make the problem disappear. There will always be people who actively use intravenous drugs. The key is getting them to do it in the safest way possible, avoid infecting themselves or others, and minimize their adverse effects.
Needle sharing and reuse of dirty needles, water, or drug “works”—aka drug preparation equipment—are hazardous to your safety. So are the risky activities you might involve yourself in when under the influence of drugs, including unprotected sex and criminal behavior.
Also, with intravenous use, it becomes not only a problem of substance addiction itself but the added hazards that go along with it. Shooting heroin or other drugs endangers not just your health, but your overall well-being.
In moments where you feel unable or unwilling to seek help, minimizing the damage is often the best you can do.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) offers advice on helping maintain the cleanest possible process when using.
If you do inject drugs, for example, adhere to these reminders:
- Never reuse or “share” syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment.
- Use only syringes obtained from a reliable source (such as pharmacies and syringe services programs).
- Use a new, sterile syringe each time to prepare and inject drugs. If this is not possible, sterilize your needle or disinfect your syringe and other equipment with bleach.
- If possible, use sterile water to prepare drugs; otherwise, use clean water from a reliable source (such as fresh tap water).
- Use a new or disinfected container (“cooker”) and a new filter (“cotton”) to prepare drugs.
- Clean the injection site with a new alcohol swab before injection.
- Safely dispose of syringes after one use.
Understand that it’s possible to contract incurable diseases from intravenous drug abuse. Even if you are spared, you are still prone to other infections from various bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The consequences can be ugly.
If you follow these recommendations closely, you can lower the chances of getting sick or infecting someone else. It will not make you invulnerable to health risks, but any measures taken are a step in the right direction.
Infectious Disease Risks
There is an inseparable link between IV drug use and certain lethal diseases. Using or sharing dirty needles—or engaging in risky behavior like unprotected sex while high—contributes to their spread.
There are two diseases that are especially common among IV drug users.
HIV is the human immunodeficiency virus. It affects the body’s immune cells, leading to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, in which the body is no longer able to fend off disease.
In addition, according to the CDC, “one in 10 HIV diagnoses occur among people who inject drugs. In 2016, injection drug use (IDU) contributed to nearly 20 percent of recorded HIV cases among men—more than 150,000 patients. Among females, 21 percent (about 50,000) of HIV cases were attributed to IDU.”
However, while HIV/AIDS can be managed with treatment, currently, there is no vaccine for the virus and no cure.
Hepatitis is characterized by inflammation of the liver. There are five types of Hepatitis (A, B, C, D, E), and each has its symptoms and requires different treatment. Potentially, the disease can lead to liver failure, cancer, and heart failure.
Like HIV, there is medication to treat Hepatitis, but no vaccine. However, you may recover from the disease but have to take prescription medication for the rest of your life to contain it.
While these are extreme outcomes of using intravenous drugs, they are far from unusual. Quitting your use is the number one way to prevent them. But if you’re hooked, you can at least minimize the possibility by employing strict safety measures.
Programs for IV Drug Users
Some people feel entirely unable to stop using drugs. Others want help but don’t know where to get it.
Individual programs may offer services to help you stay safe. For example, in Arizona, Sonoran Prevention Works utilizes “a person-centered, harm reduction-informed perspective” to help addicts achieve positive changes.
SPW and similar programs aim to educate users about IV drug use while protecting them as much as possible and encouraging rehabilitation.
For instance, services offered might include:
- Fentanyl test strips
- Syringe exchanges
- Overdose prevention kits
- Food, water, and shelter
- HIV/Hepatitis C screening
- Counseling or group therapy
- Information on users’ rights
- Information on court proceedings
- Probation assistance
Resources like these save lives. Drug addicts often don’t understand the full extent of what they’re doing to their minds and bodies. They may also be struggling financially and not have access to individual health services.
Also, harm reduction organizations also serve to protect the community. IV drug addicts can pose a danger not just to themselves, but others, and not only from a health perspective. Addicts who do not have access to necessities may turn to crime to survive or engage in increasingly risky activities.
Having a “safe place,” you can go without fear of judgment or punishment, can go a long way toward successful rehabilitation. Call us today and we can help you find your safe place.
Getting Additional Help
Substance abuse of any kind is dangerous. Choosing to use intravenously is like pouring gasoline on an already-raging fire.
It doesn’t matter which type of drug you have an addiction to. You might be shooting meth, shooting heroin, or shooting crack. No matter your drug of choice, all of these potentially deadly. It is easier to overdose by intravenous use than any other form of drug use.
Addicts often see drugs as a way to remove themselves from their problems. But simultaneously, drug addiction adds a whole new level of difficulty to the user’s life. This is especially true for IV drug users, who are automatically putting themselves at a higher risk level than other addicts.
You might know you have a problem but find it difficult to reach out for help. Addiction can be a lonely affliction, and it’s natural to feel isolated and removed from the world as a drug user.
Taking preventative measures to improve the relative safety of your drug use is a good thing. It shows you care about what happens to you and how you might impact others. That is a sure sign that you are not “lost” and have something to live for.
At the same time, it is only a temporary step. Long-term or continued IV drug use never ends well.
In short, if you would like help quitting, or if you need advice on what your next step should be, reach out and call us at 623-263-7371. There are people and resources to assist you with your recovery, and it is never too late to get your life on the right track again.
Written by Christopher Dorsey
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