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Dangers of IV Drug Use: What You Need to Know About Track Marks

Certain drugs can be injected into the muscle, under the skin, or directly into a vein. The later is the most popular method, as the intense effects of the drug occurs very quickly. Those that use this method will begin to show marks on their body called track marks.

What are Track Marks?

Track marks are the tell-tale signs of chronic intravenous drug use.

The act of drug injection is often referred to as “jacking up,” “shooting up” or “slamming” and is typically identified with the use of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates.

Usually found on the forearms, fresh track marks are identified as non-healed puncture wounds. Continued injection in the same area can result in scarring, dark pigmentation at the injection site, damage to the veins, lesions, and bruising.

Effects of IV Drug Use

A common effect of intravenous drug use is the appearance of collapsed veins. Damage occurs to the lining of the vein, causing blood clots to form within. With continued use of blunt needles, constant use of the same injection site or improper injection techniques, the vein can become completely blocked. If not treated, permanently damaged veins can never be healed.

The appearance of track marks are not only a sign of drug use; they also carry a social stigma due to the health risks that are associated with this drug sub-culture. The use of unsanitary needles can lead to serious skin infections, such as cysts, abscesses and ulcers.

Sharing Needles Can Spell Disaster

Shared and recycled needles create an environment that’s ripe for infection. Not only is there a high risk of contracting a bacterial infection, common blood-borne viruses can also be contracted from using unsterile needles.

The two most commonly transmitted viral infections caused by sharing needles are hepatitis C and HIV. Over 80 percent of those diagnosed with hepatitis contracted the disease through the use of shared or unsterilized needles.

Hiding Track Marks and IV Drug Use

As the frequency of IV drug use increases, the most commonly used injection sites become infected, inflamed and much too painful to access. When this happens, many begin injecting drugs via other parts of the body, such as the neck, groin, hands and feet.

Many IV drug users are conscious of their track marks, prompting them to hide the visible signs of shooting up. Since the forearms are a very visible part of the body, they learn to inject in more “discreet” areas – generally seeking to find sites that are easily covered with clothing or makeup.

Additional Reading: DEA Finally Acknowledges the Heroin Epidemic

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