While drug abuse of any kind can be dangerous, certain routes of administration can cause greater damage than others. Intravenous drug use, the act of injecting a water-soluble drug into one’s body, is one of the most invasive and dangerous ways an individual can administer a drug. Through continued use and repeated trauma to the injection site, IV drug abuse leads to many hazardous health effects, including sepsis.
What Is Sepsis?
While many people think sepsis is an infection itself, it’s actually a complication caused by an infection. As explained by Mayo Clinic, “sepsis occurs when chemicals are released into the bloodstream to fight the infection trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body.”
The type of infection which can cause sepsis varies. Sepsis is most heavily linked to bacteria, though certain forms of fungus or viruses may also cause it. Sepsis is commonly referred to as “blood poisoning,” as the bacteria or toxins produced by them overtake the bloodstream.
What Are The Stages Of Sepsis?
Mayo Clinic explains that sepsis is typically broken down into three stages:
Sepsis is diagnosed only when there is reasonable suspicion or verification of an infection, in addition to two of the following symptoms:
- Body temperature above 101 F (38.3 C) or below 96.8 F (36 C)
- Heart rate higher than 90 beats a minute
- Respiratory rate higher than 20 breaths a minute
Within this state, a person must have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Improperly working heart
- Respiratory (breathing) struggles
- Pain in the abdomen
- Platelet count begins falling
- Rapidly altered mental states
- Urine production drastically drops
Any of these symptoms indicate potential organ failure.
As a person’s condition advances to this state, they will display the above signs and symptoms. But, in order to qualify as septic shock, a person’s blood pressure must remain low despite attempts to increase it with fluid replacement.
Sepsis becomes more dangerous as it progresses through these stages. To avoid the greatest danger, treatment should begin as early as possible.
How Does IV Drug Use Cause Sepsis?
Intravenous drug use can introduce numerous toxins and pathogens into a person’s veins and body at large, which pave the way for infection. Pathogens include bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Staphyloccus aureus, or MRSA as it’s better known to most of us, is the bacteria most frequently responsible for IV drug infections.
Transmission of these pathogens often occurs due to improper and unhygienic handling of needles. As a person becomes addicted, the need to use becomes so intense that they disregard their health. Because of this, some users share needles. This behavior increases the risk that a pathogen will be transmitted by blood-to-blood contact.
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Even if you never share needles, you could still be at risk. Far too many drug abusers repeatedly use the same syringe. Doing so allows bacteria to grow on the needle, which could then be transmitted into your tissue and blood. Even with new needles, a person can still get an infection if they don’t properly clean the injection site. Research has found that bacteria from a person’s skin presents a greater risk than that which is present on shared needles.
Intravenous injection requires a vein, which leaves drug abusers with only so many options. Because of this, many users will repeatedly inject at the same site. This can create abscesses, track marks, or ulcers, all of which can lead to serious infection. Sometimes, a user will actually miss the vein and inject the drug into their muscle or right under the skin, raising the risk of infection in these regions. Lastly, it’s suspected that using black tar heroin increases a user’s risk of infection.
What Types Of IV Drug-Related Illness Or Disease Cause Sepsis?
Intravenous drug abuse causes a range of infections, many of which can become deadly. One of the biggest reasons why these infections endanger a person’s life is because they cause sepsis.
The following infections can lead to sepsis:
- Cellulitis: This infection affects both the skin and underlying tissue, and can spread outwards across the limb.
- Endocarditis: This occurs when bacteria, fungus, or viruses cause an infection within your heart’s inner lining and valves.
- Necrotizing fasciitis: Often referred to as the “flesh-eating disease,” this rare but serious infection is extremely aggressive and causes your body’s soft tissues to die.
Whether you inject sporadically or chronically, you’re exposing yourself to danger. While it’s true that prolonged and chronic use increases your risk over time, it is possible to contract an infection from even one use.
What Are The Complications And Dangers Of Sepsis?
Sepsis poisons your blood and body. The more time that passes without treatment, the greater the risk of complications and fatality. Sepsis can become so severe that your organs struggle to function properly. This can lead to organ damage and/or failure. Combined with the dangers of the infections themselves, these effects even further increase the risk of death.
A person’s veins can become septic and develop blood clots, inflammation, and bacteria throughout. Injecting into the jugular or other central veins increases this risk. These states could develop into sepsis and septic emboli (bacteria and pus-filled embolisms), both of which can be life-threatening conditions.
As outlined by the Sepsis Alliance, individuals who recover from sepsis often face serious long-term effects, such as:
- Amputated limbs
- Chronic pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Organ dysfunction
How Is Sepsis Treated?
If you suspect you have or are developing sepsis, seek medical help immediately. Left untreated, sepsis can progress rapidly to the point of threatening your life. As soon as you seek treatment, medical staff will likely administer a broad-spectrum antibiotic. This medication can address various types of infection and the bacteria which cause them. Once tests determine the specific bacteria, a more focused antibiotic may be used.
Through these stages, Mayo writes that other treatments may be initiated, such as:
- Drugs to stabilize the immune system
- Insulin (to stabilize blood sugar)
- IV fluids
- Painkillers (staff should proceed accordingly with opioid-addicted individuals)
- Vasopressor medication to raise blood pressure
Advanced stages of sepsis may require:
- Breathing support
- Kidney dialysis
Mayo Clinic cautions that “people with severe sepsis require close monitoring and treatment in a hospital intensive care unit. If you have severe sepsis or septic shock, lifesaving measures may be needed to stabilize breathing and heart function.”
While sepsis can be treated, we urge you to consider preventative measures to avoid this risk. Effective drug rehab can help you to overcome your IV drug addiction. Here you’ll encounter counseling, behavioral therapies, and if needed, medication-assisted treatment. Along with other dynamic modalities, these things can help you overcome your addiction.
Don’t Let IV Drug Abuse Destroy Your Health Or Claim Your Life
Contact Vertava Health today if your or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Our treatment specialists can help find a program that is tailored to your needs. If you suspect that yourself or a loved one may have sepsis or another serious infection as a result of intravenous drug use contact your doctor or go to a hospital immediately.