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Dangers of Heroin Use

There are many dangers associated with heroin use. In this article we will take a look at some of the possible short and long-term health effects, withdrawal symptoms, and the risk of infection and disease that can be a result of using a shared needle.

Dirty and shared needles increase the chances of infection and infectious diseases. Needles place a large amount of the drug into the bloodstream at one time. However, needles also inject adulterants into the bloodstream. These adulterants range from powdered milk to baby laxatives.

Some of the most common additives include:

  • Starch
  • Sugar
  • Aspirin
  • Ajax
  • Quinine
  • Caffeine
  • Talcum powder

The method of injecting heroin increases the dangerous problem accompanying dirty or shared needles, such as, infectious bacteria and viruses that cause:

  • Hepatitis B or C
  • Endocarditis
  • Malaria
  • Syphilis
  • Flesh-eating bacteria
  • Gangrene
  • HIV virus that causes AIDS

Studies have shown that 50 to 90 percent of all needle-using heroin addicts carry hepatitis C. Even those with less than one year of injecting the drug, had a positive rate of 71.4 percent. Once infected:

  • 20% to 40% will develop liver disease
  • 4% to 16% will develop liver cancer

The transmission of HIV through IV drug use is huge. Varying from state to state, more than half of all users carry the HIV virus. Internationally the figures are worse. It is estimated that 74% to 91% of heroin addicts are HIV positive.

In addition, excess needle use continually traumatizes the blood vessels causing them to collapse. This forces the user to switch to other locations around the body. Injection sites include:

  • The wrist
  • Between the toes
  • In the neck
  • Even genitals

The following chart from shows some of the possible health effects associated with the use of heroin:

heroin effects

Users frequently experience a condition known as “Cotton fever,” caused by endotoxins. This short-term bacterial infection results in fever, chills, tremors, aches and pains. In addition, septic abscesses and ulcerations are common in IV drug users. They also experience lesions or “tracks” which are scars on the skin often caused by constant inflammation of the injection site. One of the worst infections is necrotizing fascitis and infection that destroys fascia and subcutaneous tissue but is not immediately visible on the surface skin. This is known as the “flesh-eating disease.”

Heroin Use and Dangers Sources:

  • Uppers, Downers All Arounders: Darryl S. Inaba ‘Executive officer Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, San Francisco CA.’, William E. Cohen, ‘Haight Ashbury Detox Clinic’
  • NIDA Research Report – Heroin Abuse and Addiction: NIH Publication No. 05-4165, Printed October 1997, Reprinted September, 2000, Revised May 2005.

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