Cellulitis From Intravenous (IV) Drug Use
There are many types of drugs which are abused via IV injection. For many, the most well known is the addictive and very dangerous opioid drug heroin. In addition, certain prescription opioid painkillers, cocaine, and methamphetamine are also heavily abused. If you or a loved one IV injects, you need to be aware of the risks and dangers associated with this method. Intravenous drug use weakens your immune system, making it more susceptible to infections like cellulitis.
Why Does IV Drug Abuse Cause Cellulitis?
One of the hallmark signs of drug addiction is when a person continues to use despite the knowledge that their drug abuse is causing harm to their body and health. The types of drugs which are IV injected are very addictive. Because of this, many people are so consumed by seeking their next fix that they ignore safe injection practices.
Factors which can cause cellulitis include:
Our Skin: On any given day, your skin is host to a variety of bacteria and other microorganisms. Many of these are harmless and even beneficial. However, certain bacteria which reside here can become dangerous if they enter your body. As the needle pierces your skin during IV injection, any surface bacteria could be carried into your body.
Not Cleaning The Skin: If an individual doesn’t properly clean and disinfect the injection site, these bacteria and other pathogens will have a way into your body. Instead of using alcohol which kills certain bacteria, some individuals will lick their arm or use saliva. These practices fail to remove bacteria, and instead introduce harmful oral bacteria to the injection site.
Drug Type: Many drugs are adulterated or cut with other substances which can irritate the skin and tissue. “Speedballs” (heroin and cocaine) have been shown to increase the risk of infection as well.
Paraphernalia: Needles or other paraphernalia (spoons, filters, and mixing or wash water) could be contaminated, compounding this risk. This happens by:
- Sharing needles
- Reusing needles
- Cleaning needles with spit
- Beyond this, some people may use a dull needle which creates more damage to the skin.
“Skin Popping”: Chronic drug use can damage veins so extensively, that they become inaccessible. If this happens, some people may resort to “skin popping.” To do this, a person injects the drug under their skin instead of into a vein. This method has been linked to increased rates of cellulitis, such that “injection drug users who skin-pop are five times more likely to develop…cellulitis,” as reported within the article “Dermatologic Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse.”
Where You Inject: Certain individuals actually inject into a spot which is already becoming infected. This overwhelms an area which is already in overdrive with even more bacteria. Certain areas (like the groin) may be harder to clean, leading to higher rates of infection.
What Is Cellulitis?
Cellulitis is a type of skin and soft tissue infection. Staphylococcus aureus is frequently responsible for infections of this kind (staph infections). Cellulitis is one of the two most common forms of staph infections. It may also be caused by certain types of streptococcal and oral bacteria or even fungi.
Once these bacteria find a way beneath the skin, your body’s natural defenses go to work. An infection is a sign that your white blood cells are trying to fight the bacterial invaders. The infection develops at or near the injection site. Symptoms emerge suddenly, and usually appear in two to five days after the bacteria first gained a foothold. Once cellulitis appears, the sore and/or rash quickly expands within the first day.
Other signs include:
- Dimpled skin
- Fever and/or chills
- Stiff joints
This area will commonly be warm and is most always excessively painful to the touch. The skin may also appear tight in a way which makes it seem glossy. Please do not ignore these symptoms or try to treat cellulitis on your own. Improperly treated cellulitis can lead to more severe infections and deadly complications.
What Complications Can Cellulitis Cause?
Sometimes, cellulitis will spread. As this happens, the redness and inflammation will travel across your limb or other body part. This is a very bad sign which means the infection is growing. If you don’t treat cellulitis, it could develop into other more severe complications, according to MedlinePlus, such as:
- Bone infection (osteomyelitis)
- Gangrene (tissue death)
- Infection of the heart (endocarditis)
- Inflammation of the lymph vessels (lymphangitis)
Additionally, without proper medical care, the bad bacteria and infection could gain a stronghold in your blood. This is called sepsis or “blood poisoning.” A sepsis infection can travel all throughout your body. If the infection reaches this stage, the likelihood of serious complications (including death) rises.
How Is Cellulitis Treated?
As soon as you seek treatment, medical staff will administer an antibiotic and draw blood cultures. Once the lab tests are complete, they may change the antibiotic to one which works for the specific bacteria they isolated. If the pain is severe, medication may be prescribed. But if you suffer from an opioid addiction, it’s important you relay this information to your provider.
It’s important to get ample rest and drink a lot of fluids during this time, to help your immune system regain its strength. If you’re able, raise the infected area over your heart to help keep the swelling at bay. If your cellulitis led to a more advanced infection, more intensive measures may be necessary.
Take Control Over Your Health Today
The best way to avoid future IV drug-related infections is by getting sober. Good treatment programs will address your physical, mental, and emotional health needs, so that you can build a solid recovery. Addiction Campuses can help you find a program to support you on this journey. Contact us now.Article Sources
Harm Reduction International - https://www.hri.global/files/2010/06/15/Chapter_3.3Web_.pdf
Sepsis Alliance - http://www.sepsis.org/sepsis-and/cellulitis/