Abscesses from IV Drug Use

If you’re an intravenous drug user, you’re at increased risk for developing abscesses and other bacterial skin infections. According to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, bacterial infections are among the most common health risks associated with intravenous drug use.

Why IV Drug Users Are Susceptible to Bacterial Infection

Bacterial infections are commonly caused by the user’s own communal bacteria. In other words, the bacteria naturally living on a healthy person’s skin is the usual cause of a painful and sometimes life-threatening infection.

When a needle comes in contact with dirt and bacteria on your skin, it transfers them into the epidermis, sometimes causing an infection to develop. Consistent use of clean needles and rubbing alcohol before injection can reduce this risk but will not eliminate it entirely.

A bacterial skin abscess is one of the most common bacterial infections present among IV drug users. According to a comprehensive study published by Dr. Joshua D. Bamberger, one out of every 150 IV drug users in San Francisco is living with an abscess all or part of the time. Though these infections can resolve on their own, left untreated, they can lead to sepsis, amputation and even death.

Abscesses: What You Should Look For

Abscesses are usually round or oval-shaped with dark, pus-filled masses at the center. An abscess can develop anywhere on your body but commonly appear at or around the injection site. The result is pain, swelling and tenderness of the skin to the touch. If allowed to grow unchecked, the abscess may spread into the bloodstream or into deeper tissue, where it can create further health complications.

Treating an Abscess

If an intravenous drug user is unable or unwilling to visit a physician for treatment, some abscesses can be treated at home; however, this is not recommended. If the abscess you’re dealing with is less than one centimeter or less than one-half inch across, heat may help the infection. Using a warm compress on the affected area for 30 minutes four times per day may help the abscess to heal on its own.

Soaking in an Epsom salt bath could also promote healing. Epsom salt naturally draws toxins from the body and is very inexpensive and easy to use. If you’re diabetic or allergic to sulfur, avoid using this remedy until you speak with your doctor. Also, if you notice any red streaks around the abscess, do not use this method as this could be a sign that the infection has spread. Consult a physician immediately.

If the abscess you’re trying to treat at home won’t heal or recurs, you need to get professional treatment. A doctor can prescribe a round of antibiotics and will likely numb and drain the area of infection so your wound can heal.

If you’re afraid to go to a doctor with your abscess because you’re afraid you’ll be judged for your IV drug problem, think of the consequences of not going. Abscesses are just like any other bacterial infection. If left untreated, they can spread and ultimately cause death.

Is it Time to Seek Help for Your IV Drug Problem?

When you’re an intravenous drug user, you’re always living life on the edge. This doesn’t just mean the possibility of losing money, your friends, your relationships or your job; this means your next high could be your last. It means the next time you shoot up, you could be injecting yourself with more than just a drug. You could be setting yourself up for a serious illness that could end in your premature death.