Injection Of Drugs
Injection is a way of getting a liquid drug in to the body using a needle and syringe, usually intravenously (injecting in to a vein), sometimes intramuscular (injection in to a muscle) or subcutaneous (just below the skins surface, known as skin popping). The full effects of the drug are experienced very quickly and intensely as it gets the drug directly into the bloodstream and on to the brain. All methods of injecting are potentially extremely harmful - of all the ways to get drugs into the system, injection has the most risks by far as it bypasses the body's natural filtering mechanisms against viruses, bacteria and foreign objects. There is a greater risk of overdose, infections and health problems.
Repeated injection in the same sites can cause damage to skin and veins, leading to ulceration, abscesses and collapsed veins. As finding a vein becomes more difficult injectors may resort to even more dangerous sites such as the fine blood vessels in fingers or toes, or the femoral vein in the groin.
The groin is a particularly dangerous site because of the risk of hitting the femoral artery or femoral nerve the consequences of both being very serious. The search for ever more inaccessible sites increases the possibility of hitting nerves or arteries.
Professionals working with drug injectors advise them that to avoid physical damage their clients should always clean the site with a sterile swab, use the smallest needle possible, and regularly rotate injection sites. This means using a different site on the arm or leg each time. This will allow scar tissue to heal fully.
The risk of infections by blood borne viruses such as hepatitis and HIV is high when using shared and non sterile injection equipment. It is not just the syringe itself which poses dangers but also the spoons, filters, water and other paraphernalia used to make up a drug for injection.
During the year 2000 a batch of heroin which had been contaminated with bacteria caused about 40 deaths in the UK and Ireland. This was a previously unknown danger from street drugs which highlights the risks of infections from drugs produced in uncontrolled illegal 'laboratories'.
A network of needle exchange schemes are available across the UK. These provide drug users with new, sterile equipment. Drug workers also advise those of their clients who cannot get to a needle exchange scheme to make sure that their injection equipment is boiled or cleaned with bleach. For bleach cleaning the needle and syringe are flushed through with concentrated bleach, then cold water, and the process repeated several times.