Very few drugs are sold in a liquid format that can be pulled up into a needle and then pushed into the bloodstream. Most people who choose to inject drugs mix a solid drug with some kind of solvent, such as water or alcohol. The solution is then heated, and much of the solvent is cooked away. The liquid left behind is pulled into a syringe, and the liquid in that syringe is pushed into a user’s artery or vein. There are other ways to prepare liquids for injection, of course, but this is a dominant method.
Injecting drugs, according to the English organization Dan 24/7, can allow substances of abuse to hit the cells of the brain incredibly rapidly. This method rarely disturbs the structural integrity of the drug. That means the power of the drug is not altered when it is prepared for use via this manner, so all of the impact of the drug is available and present. And all of it can hit the brain in seconds.
A rapid onset of full drug power can lead to an overdose. The brain is not designed to be overwhelmed by drugs on a regular basis. People who take drugs in this manner could hit their brain cells with an overwhelming amount of drugs without even realizing it, and that could lead to a life-threatening complication.
Even with that risk, people with a habit might continue to use drugs via needles, and those needles can be hard to come by. Many communities have passed laws that restrict the sale of needles, and that means people with addictions might feel forced to share needles. That could be incredibly dangerous. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says up to 1.4 million people are living with hepatitis in the United States, and some 1 million people are expected to die of the disease within the next 40-50 years. Many of these infections can be linked directly to sharing needles. Tiny bits of infection remain in the needles, and they are injected with each hit. It is a serious complication of needle drug use.
In addition to sharing infections with hepatitis, people who share needles can also share bacteria. A study from Rutgers found that 22.8 percent of people from a poor community in San Francisco were colonized by Staphylococcus aureus, which causes a very serious loss of tissue when it enters the body. Researchers suggested that people who inject drugs have higher levels of bacteria like this on the skin, and when they push a needle through the skin, they inject those bacteria cells into the body. Once inside, those bacteria cells can cause ulcers, painful infections, or cellulitis.
Injecting drugs frequently can also cause trauma to the arteries and veins. Every injection is a wound, and people who inject may not give those wounds time to heal. People who inject may traumatize their arteries and veins to such a degree that those vessels simply collapse. That means future injections are harder, as there is nowhere to put the needle. It means that people who use drugs might be forced to look for novel places in which to push a needle, like the spaces between the toes or fingers. Those drug decisions could lead to more collapse in time.
Finally, some drugs of abuse were simply never meant to go into the veins at all. For example, the National Institutes of Health says that oral medications like pain pills are meant to be processed by the stomach, and indigestible bits are sent to the liver for processing. Injecting those drugs bypasses those safeguards, and those little bits can cling together and block blood vessels and veins.
Clearly, while injecting might seem like an efficient way to take drugs, it comes with some very serious health risks, some of which are life-threatening. No one should ever use this method.