While people seek out the euphoric rush associated with heroin use, it is often accompanied by dangerous side effects like clouded thinking, nausea, and depressed respiration. The respiratory effects can be especially serious for heroin users, as they can lead to lung complications. Overdose is always a possibility with every use of heroin, and this can lead to severe health effects, up to and including death.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), heroin can be consumed by smoking or snorting the drug, but the most dangerous method of use is via injection.
Injecting, also known as “shooting,” heroin is a dangerous method of use for what is already a very unsafe drug. Injection is done intravenously by using a syringe to insert the drug directly into the bloodstream, which increases how rapidly the effects of the substance are felt as well as the intensity of the effects. A lighter and spoon are common paraphernalia used in liquefying the substance so it can be injected.
Long-term heroin use can cause a plethora of health complications, according to NIDA.
Physical dependence and addiction are common with a drug this powerful, and both can develop incredibly quickly once injection use starts.
Vein issues are common among intravenous heroin users. Collapsed veins and cases of venous sclerosis, a condition that results in the narrowing and hardening of the veins, abound among abusers of the drug. Venous sclerosis can make it difficult to inject heroin into the same vein multiple times. This, however, does not serve as much of a deterrent for future use for someone addicted to the drug; users may continue injecting heroin into severely damaged veins or switch to injecting the drug into muscle once the veins are too damaged. Veins can also become scarred from injection.
Bacterial infection is one of the more serious dangers associated with shooting heroin. Spore-forming bacteria can enter the system via the syringe used for injection. These infections can spread throughout the body quickly and lead to dire consequences, such as paralysis and death.
Certain harm-reduction measures have been put in place to mitigate the chances of diseases spreading via injection drug use. For example, single-use syringes decrease instances of needle-sharing, and needle exchange programs are used in some communities.
The only foolproof way to avoid contracting these damaging diseases is to avoid injection drug use altogether.