Potential Complications Of IV Drug Use

Intravenous Drug Administration Can Lead To Serious Health Problems

Most drug addictions begin through less direct methods of administration like smoking or ingesting the substance. But as dependence increases and addicts seek stronger, faster highs, they often consider or begin abusing drugs such as heroin or cocaine through intravenous injection (IV drug use).

Most addicts opt for IV drug use for more powerful and immediate effects; few consider or even realize that injecting substances can cause permanent damage and negative health consequences, making it a highly dangerous practice. Among the numerous possible health repercussions of using a syringe to inject substances are infections, overdose, and cardiovascular disease.

Abscesses And Cutaneous Infections

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.

Contaminants in substances, combined with generally non-sterile equipment and poor hygiene, increase the risk of a possible abscess or skin infection significantly. Sterilizing needles and cleaning the skin before injection can help reduce the possibility of an abscess forming, but these practices cannot prevent the effects of contaminants in the drugs themselves.

Scarring And Needle Tracks

It is estimated that more than three-quarters of intravenous drug users eventually develop scars in a vascular distribution, with more than half still displaying those scars even after more than five years of sobriety. "Pop scars," round- or oval-shaped permanent scars, are very common, and can stigmatize abusers for the rest of their lives.


Endocarditis, a condition characterized by inflammation of the interior lining of the heart, can occur from repeated intravenous drug use. Most drug users inject substances into veins that drain into the right side of the heart, and as a result, the right-sided heart valves can develop endocarditis. Bacteria from poorly sanitized needles can also lead to endocarditis. Left untreated, endocarditis can damage or destroy heart valves and can lead to life-threatening complications.


Sharing needles or failing to properly sanitize the equipment can lead to the direct transmission of blood-related conditions, including hepatitis and HIV. Although HIV transmission is relatively rare, it remains a significant risk in environments where intravenous drug use is common.

Overdose Risk

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.

Although many drug addicts are drawn to the intense high promised by IV drug use, few completely understand the potential dangers of this behavior. IV drug use can lead to many problems ranging from permanent scarring to life-threatening complications, the latter of which affect recreational users and addicts alike.

heroin = opiate addiction
cocaine = stimulant addiction