Infectious diseases and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) may be passed through unprotected sexual contact. Injecting drugs and sharing needles without sterilizing them increase the odds for passing blood-borne diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that injection drug use (IDU) is a common method of transmitting various diseases, such as:

  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Tuberculosis (TB)
  • STDs

When someone injects drugs, some of their blood will remain in the “works,” or injection preparation materials, including the drug solution, syringe, and needle. If this blood is contaminated with a blood-borne disease and someone else uses the same materials, the infected blood is introduced to the clean blood and can contaminate it.

Needles and drug injection paraphernalia acquired on the street may not be sterile even if it is marketed as such. Therefore, the only way to ensure that needles and injection materials are clean is to purchase them directly from pharmacies or to obtain them through a needle-sharing program.

Substance abuse treatment programs can help a person to stop using drugs altogether, thereby eliminating the risk of contracting a blood-borne illness.

HIV and Hepatitis Transmission through IDU

HIV is a serious and incurable blood-borne illness. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warns that injection drug use is responsible for the transmission of around 10 percent of all HIV cases each year in the United States. HIV is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, which can occur via injection drug use. The CDC reports that one out of every 23 women, and one out of every 36 men who inject drugs, is likely to contract HIV at some point in their lifetime.

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and can progress into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, which greatly compromises the body’s immune system. It can make the person extremely vulnerable to infections, cancers, and other malignancies.

Another blood-borne illness, hepatitis C virus (HCV), is over 10 times more likely to be transmitted from a needle stick than HIV. In populations of people who inject drugs, between 50 percent and 95 percent may suffer from an HCV infection, the Journal of Infectious Diseases publishes.

HCV is a viral liver inflammation and illness that can result in a chronic condition, such as cirrhosis, liver disease, and irreversible liver damage. HHS further reports that as many as 80 percent of IDUs who suffer from HIV are also infected with HCV.

Injection drug use is incredibly risky, and it can have many long-lasting and even permanent consequences. Substance abuse treatment programs can help, however. They provide education, prevention techniques, and treatment options to minimize the possible negative outcomes related to injection drug use, and drug use in general, in order to enhance overall quality of life.