According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 13 million people around the world that inject drugs, and of these 13 million people, 1.7 million of them are currently living with HIV. Doing drugs through injection into your veins is referred to as intravenous drug use, which is the method of getting drugs into your system by using a needle and syringe to insert the drugs directly into your blood flow. This method for taking drugs, while incredibly dangerous and risky for contracting disease, is predicted to continue growing in popularity. As the opioid epidemic continues to be a national concern, researchers at USC have found that those abusing opioids are more likely to begin intravenous drug use than those abusing other drugs. Therefore, it is hypothesized that drug use through injection will increase as younger generations continue using opioids. For those that inject drugs, it isn’t very easy to be discrete about, for your body develops track marks where the injection is made. What exactly are track marks, and why are they a significant cause for concern? Keep reading to find out.
What is meant by “track marks”
Track marks on the body are an automatic give away that drugs are being taken through injection. Track marks are typically found on the forearm, but can also be located on the wrist, the back of the hand, and even on the user’s legs. Track marks are described as the darkening of the veins, that the drugs are injected into, due to scarring and buildup of toxins. These marks can appear red, bruised, scabbed, scarred, and often in rows. There is usually visible scarring from repeated injections into the same area that has healed into scars. Simply put, track marks are the result of your body reacting to undesired substances being repeatedly injected into your system.
Why do people inject drugs
When people inject drugs directly into their bloodstream, versus taking them in other ways like snorting, or smoking them, they experience different effects. Once drugs are injected the substance gives off instant, strong results immediately felt all throughout the body. Other reasons drug users prefer injecting over the other ways to take drugs are because they think it is easier on their stomach and doesn’t affect mucous membranes in the way that snorting does. When drugs are injected the high is also often felt for less time, leading to injecting more and more, putting yourself at a higher risk for developing a dependency and addiction to the substance. As a dependence develops, the amount of the drug needed to experience that same euphoric high massively increases. As their tolerance to their drug of choice increases, they are putting themselves at a higher risk for overdosing.
What drugs are done by injection
There is a large variety of drugs that can be taken by injection, beyond heroin which is very commonly known. There are even drugs that are typically taken in other ways that people choose to reformulate so they can be injected for the immediate results. Drugs that can be taken by injection include:
- Prescription drugs
On top of all these injectable drugs, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has determined that the subsequent drugs are injected as well:
- Bath salts
Drug users have found a way to make nearly every drug injectable, by crushing up pills and liquifying them into a shootable material.
Symptoms of IV drug use
Having track marks along your arms or legs is a dead giveaway that some sort of drugs are being injected into your system. This is not the only way to tell if intravenous drug use is being done, there are many additional symptoms to be aware of. Beyond track marks those who are consistently using drugs may experience visible physical symptoms such as rapid weight gain or weight loss. There are also symptoms that may be harder to pick up on, but can still be distinguished if you know what you are looking for. For heroin abuse, these noticeable signs may include:
- Trouble catching your breath
- Dry mouth
- Significantly smaller pupils than usual
- Scabs or sores throughout the body from skin picking
- Disorientation, or the opposite- extreme alertness
- Lack of motivation
- Change in sleep schedule
- Worsened personal hygiene
For those who consistently abuse drugs via the injection method, they have the explained track marks all over their body. These marks, visibly unattractive and revealing of a severe drug problem, are often attempted to be hid from the public eye. If it is the middle of summer and a long sleeve shirt and pants are being worn, this is a sign that the user is trying to be discreet about their track marks. Beyond physical symptoms, signs that IV drug use is happening can be found scattered throughout the users home. The materials used to inject drugs are ones that are not commonly used for any other type of behavior. Items that may be found suggesting intravenous drug use is occurring include:
- Small orange syringe lids
- Burned aluminum foil
- Rubber bands
- Cotton balls
- Cigarette butts
Lastly, showing symptoms of substance withdrawal is a sign that one has been either injecting or doing drugs in a different way. Withdrawal symptoms occur when one has developed a strong dependency on the substance they use, and once they stop feeding their body this drug, their body has a strong reaction. After using the drugs for so long, your body now needs this substance in order to feel “normal,” and must now learn to adjust to life without it. Many withdrawal symptoms can be picked up on merely by the way someone looks and acts, such as:
- Vomiting or nausea
- Trouble sleeping
- Getting the chills
- Stomach pain
Dangers of injecting drugs
Doing drugs, in general, is already incredibly dangerous for your health, but depending on the method of drug administration there are varying risks to be aware of. Drug injection is believed to be the most dangerous, and least predictable way to take drugs, with extreme health risks that go beyond the increased likelihood of overdose. Sharing and reusing needles and syringes with other drug users is an unfortunately common practice, used as a way to save time and money on getting new, clean supplies. Studies have been conducted to measure the number of drug users who inject and share needles, and the numbers are very high. When thousands of drug users who admitted to injected drugs were asked if they partook in needle sharing, 70.4% of them agreed to have used a shared needle recently. Many who share needles believe they are immune to catching diseases if they don’t inject the drug directly into the vein, and instead inject it into fat or a muscle. These ways of injecting drugs are no safer than injecting directly into the vein, and horrible diseases are still spread.
Diseases can be spread by injecting drugs in various ways, beyond just using someone else's needle, such as:
- Reusing syringes that are infected with the blood of someone else
- Reusing the water used to clean out the needles or syringes
- Sharing the tools used to create the drug mixtures, such as spoons or bottle caps
- Sharing supplies used to filter the materials
- Accidentally touching the blood of an infected person after injecting
Through these ways of spreading infection, many life-threatening diseases can be dispersed, the most common and most significant being HIV and Hepatitis C.
HIV, human immunodeficiency virus, is one of the most feared diseases, as if it goes untreated it can quickly develop into AIDS. HIV attacks the immune system, killing its cells and weakening the ability to fight off infection. There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, but luckily there is medication that can slow its progression and prevent HIV from further development. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of those diagnosed with HIV, 1 in every 10 cases are caused by drug injections or a combination of male-to-male sexual contact and drug injection. HIV can be spread through the blood of a contaminated individual, or through sexual contact. Once present in a needle used to inject drugs, HIV can remain and be spread for up to 42 days after use. Early on signs of HIV can resemble flu-like symptoms, and later stages in the infection can show symptoms such as :
- Weight loss
- Persistent night sweats
- Mouth or skin sores and infections
- An ongoing couch
- Development of serious illnesses, such as pneumonia
While HIV and AIDS are not the same things, it is essential to take note of the symptoms you could be experiencing before it turns into something far more severe.
- Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C virus often referred to as hep C, is a virus of the liver that causes inflammation and serious complications. The liver plays an incredibly important role in your body's ability to function, affecting its ability to filter blood, and resulting in toxins building up. Most symptoms of hepatitis C are hard to detect early on, often leading to the development of chronic hepatitis C, which can become a lifelong disease. It’s been determined that roughly 75% of people show no symptoms upon initially contracting the hepatitis C infection, but the 25% that do again show flu-like symptoms, such as fever, nausea, exhaustion, loss of appetite, and muscle pain. Injecting drugs contributes to a large amount of the cases of hepatitis C, and it has been estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that between 38 and 68 percent of drug users who inject substances have hepatitis C, with an average 53.1% having the illness.
If you or someone you know is showing any of the potential symptoms for HIV or hepatitis C, it is best to see your doctor immediately before the infection progresses. There is also a possibility of contracting other diseases through injecting drugs, such as hepatitis B and tetanus, both of which are.extremely serious and require immediate medical attention. Even if you are not showing any symptoms, if you have injected any drugs at any point in your life it is in your best interest to talk to your doctor about getting your blood tested.
Alleviating track marks
When making the decision to inject drugs into your body, track marks are an inevitable effect that will always persist. Track marks are not easy to heal, do not heal on their own, and take a very long time to begin to go away even when taken care of. The first step and best way to eliminate track marks is by stopping all injections. Putting an end to an addiction that has been steadily progressing for a significant amount of time is difficult, but there are countless resources to help. Heroin is the number one drug that people seek rehab to treat, as it is considered one of the most addictive substances in the world.
If track marks are visible, growing, and getting worse on yourself or someone you know this a sign that treatment should be sought. Drug rehabilitation centers, like Landmark Recovery, are committed to providing the tools and education needed to begin living a drug-free life, and never looking back. At Landmark Recovery, we offer high-quality services ranging from detox, residential and inpatient, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient. Landmark designs personalized programs to cater toward each patient's needs and diagnoses, helping them achieve their goals. Landmark’s incredible staff is committed to creating a supportive environment of recovery built upon trust, treatment, and an implementation of what's an intervention. Stop allowing drugs to control your fate, and begin living the life you dream at Landmark today!