Injecting heroin involves shooting the drug directly into the vein using a hypodermic needle. The drug enters the bloodstream and the brain to produce the intense high users crave.
Heroin addiction rules the thought processes of the user, who is not thinking of the risks of injecting heroin, only the desired effect it produces. As such, the risk of overdose, contracting HIV or hepatitis, and infection are serious considerations.
Heroin Abuse Facts
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports in their 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2020 that 691,000 people had a heroin use disorder in the past year for those over 12, with the highest percentage being over 26. Another alarming statistic based on lifetime usage of heroin is from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.
Additionally, it circulates that 3,091,000 Americans have used heroin at least once in their lifetime. It is a fact that all heroin users—not just drug injectors—carry the risk of addiction. Furthermore, most people who begin using heroin by snorting or smoking it sometimes switch to injecting heroin to reach their desired high level quickly.
Why People Inject Heroin
New and younger users of heroin often begin using heroin by snorting or smoking. A certain stigma people associate with injecting heroin involves an error-laden belief that only injecting heroin leads to addiction. When users smoke or snort heroin over an extended period, they develop a tolerance, and the body becomes less sensitive to the drug, causing the effects to be less intense.
Dissatisfied with these results, users ignore the risks of injecting heroin and turn to the needle to achieve the drastic and extreme high they crave. Injecting heroin sends the drug directly through the bloodstream into the brain, causing immediate effects. Unfortunately, this form of drug use contains the highest level of risk.
Snorting or smoking heroin does not produce an immediate effect because the drug metabolizes through the lungs and kidneys before going to the brain. Research shows that a specific demographic, street users, for example, turn to the injection method of using heroin.
Short-Term Effects of Injecting Heroin
The side effects of injecting heroin differ for each person. Individual usage factors such as dosage, substances like meth, crack, or fentanyl in the heroin, and the user’s health affect the side effects injection produces. Short-term effects can show up immediately after use, and others may take time to occur. Sich short-term effects may only appear after a habit or addiction is present.
Short-term effects of injecting heroin can include any of the following signs and symptoms:
- Slowed breathing and heart rate
- Dry mouth, nausea, and vomiting
- Itchiness and drowsiness
- Impaired coordination and tremors
- Aggressive behavior
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Wounds and abscesses
- Cognitive issues, including poor decision-making
- Mental health conditions
Long-Term Effects of Injecting Heroin
The long-term side effects of injection heroin occur after addiction develops. The risks of injecting heroin occur because street users practice indiscriminate habits, like sharing needles. Continual injection causes permanent scarring and injury to veins. Lack of personal care can cause wounds from incessant injections to become infected or abscessed.
Long-term side effects from injecting heroin include the following symptoms:
- Collapsed veins, scarring, blood clots, and track marks
- HIV, AIDS
- Hepatitis C
- Pericarditis (swelling/inflammation around the heart)
- Endocarditis (swelling and inflation within the heart)
- Atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), and heart attack
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) claims that injection drug use is the most common way to contract hepatitis C. Hep B and C can damage the liver and lead to liver failure. Needle exchanges have tried to address this issue nationwide, alongside counseling and opioid therapy.
Injecting heroin is dangerous because it contains additives such as cornstarch and powdered milk, clogging blood vessels, leading to collapsed veins, and damaging essential organs, veins, and arteries.
Heroin-Related Heart and Brain Damage
Impaired heart health is another one of the risks of injecting heroin. The cardiovascular system is adversely affected by injecting heroin, leading to several heart issues. Heroin affects the heart’s electrical activity, leading to arrhythmias such as bradycardia and tachycardia (fast or slower heartbeats).
Widening of the arteries can cause problems with low blood pressure. Heart attacks and infectious endocarditis (heroin heart) are familiar to opioid users. Overdosing from injecting heroin is a large-scale hazard because the drug is not filtered through bodily filters and goes straight to the brain.
It remains a constant unknown as to what sellers mix with the heroin. Injecting heroin is precarious as it is almost impossible to know the exact dosage. It is easy to overdose and not have a reversal drug, like Narcan or Naloxone, available.
Overdose symptoms from injecting heroin can include any of the following:
- Bluish coloring to lips and fingernails due to lack of oxygen
- Cold, clammy skin
- Weak pulse and shallow breathing
- Delirium, disorientation or drowsiness
- Pinpoint pupils
- Coma and death
Skin Wounds, Lesions, and Abscesses
Significant risks of injecting heroin revolve around skin wounds, lesions, infections, and abscesses. Emergency rooms see many patients due to skin and tissue infections, cellulitis, and abscesses from injection-related wounds. Wounds and infections due to injecting heroin can cause overall poor health and bacterial infections.
Without proper treatment of the wounds, serious complications can lead to tissue necrosis, blood clots, and a condition known as booting or jacking (injection of the drug, pulling blood back into the syringe, and then re-injection).
Nerve Damage from Injecting Heroin
Wound botulism is a life-threatening condition that is a direct risk to those injecting heroin. The clostridium botulinum germ gets into a wound that may not even look like an infection is present and creates a dangerous toxin.
The toxin attacks nerves and causes difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, and death. An antitoxin can stop more harm from occurring but cannot reverse the damage already done. Treatment can take weeks to months of hospitalization.
Symptoms of wound botulism can include:
- Blurred or double vision
- Drooping eyelids
- Slurred speech and a thick tongue feeling
- Difficulty swallowing and dry mouth
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty breathing and paralysis
The Benefits of Wound Care
Open sores and excessive scarring can result from injecting heroin after developing an addiction. Treatment centers offering wound care are beneficial when considering a place for detox from heroin. A qualified team of medical professionals familiar with addiction-related wounds can prevent further complications from present wounds and continue treatments to prevent further damage.
Detoxing from heroin, including wound care, brings medical care closer to the individual with a heroin addiction and may have other conditions needing treatment.
Get Detox and Wound Care for Heroin Addiction in Tennessee
The best care for those with a heroin addiction includes the option of wound care and a medically monitored detox program in a qualified treatment center. Detox West of Tennessee provides compassionate and understanding treatment for those seeking treatment for heroin addiction.
The first step is contacting the admissions department to understand how the center can meet individual needs. Our admissions department can answer questions and relieve anxiety and fears over treatment.