As you continue to use heroin, it starts becoming more frequent. You begin to crave it when you are at work, and it has become an integral part of your de-stress routine. But you begin feeling some of the side effects. You are tired all the time and constantly feel sick, like you have a cold. Even through these, you continue to be careful with your needles, always going to the needle exchanges so your supplies are always clean.
This week you overslept and missed the exchange. You tear your house apart, searching for any new syringes but come up empty-handed. Looking at your coffee table, you see your needles from previous days. What could it hurt? It’s only for a week until the next exchange. But as the week goes on, you notice lumps on your arms, some big and some small. The big ones are red and hurt to the touch. What are these? Should you be concerned?
A study involving the HCA Healthcare West Florida division showed that 112 patients presented with bone infections following prolonged IV opioid use. These patients spent an average of two weeks in the hospital for treatment, due to the lack of ways to administer intravenous antibiotics. At Clean Recovery Centers, we understand how using heroin now can seem more important than your overall health. We are educating our communities and providing resources and options to regain wellness and learn about the consequences of heroin use. Today, we are discussing what heroin abscesses are, and how dangerous they can be.
What Is a Heroin Abscess?
Heroin is a depressant that can be taken by injection, snorting, swallowing, or smoking. When heroin is injected, the sites can become inflamed and bruised, leading to infections and abscesses. An abscess is a node of pus and bacteria that forms under the skin, creating a lump that is swollen and painful. This pus needs to be drained for the abscess to heal properly.
The Causes a Heroin Abscess to Form?
When heroin is injected with an unclean needle or into an unclean area of the skin, bacteria can enter the body. The bacteria flourish and create pus-filled abscesses under the skin at the injection site. The abscesses can range in size and are usually sensitive to the touch. Think of the skin on the face, acne forms when dirt and foreign contaminants get into the pores and clog them, creating blackheads and whiteheads. Abscesses form in similar ways, bacteria basically grow a “zit” under the skin. However, abscesses are filled with infected liquid, and when not drained properly, they will return or spread the infection further under the skin.
Signs, Symptoms, and Complications Caused by a Heroin Abscess
There are many signs of heroin addiction, and abscesses can be a clear indicator that heroin use is taking over. Those who use heroin tend to neglect basic needs such as eating or getting enough sleep. When an abscess appears, it is not their first priority to get it looked at. With a weakened immune system from poor nutrition and lack of sleep, abscesses can pose many uncomfortable symptoms. Some of the symptoms of a heroin abscess include:
- Redness and swelling
- Drainage of pus
- Pain and warmth to the touch
- Open wounds
When an abscess becomes severely infected, complications can arise. Fever is one of the first indicators that an infection is taking over the body. The skin and tissue surrounding the abscess will start to turn different colors, from green and blue to black or brown. At this point, seeking medical attention is highly advised.
What Can Happen if Heroin Abscess Is Left Untreated?
While it may seem like a run-of-the-mill side effect of heroin to have abscesses, they can pose major problems if left untreated. When the tissue around the abscess begins dying, the infection travels throughout the body. The limb itself will begin losing blood flow starting in the area around the abscess and continuing to spread if treatment is not sought. Infection can cause organs such as the heart, kidneys, and brain to stop functioning properly. The blood can become toxic, a condition known as sepsis. Once this occurs, there is a small window to get medical help before the infection causes lifelong injuries or death.
Most Common Places in the Body That an Abscess Forms
Abscesses can form at any injection site. The most common areas to inject heroin include the forearms, neck, upper arms, groin, and between the toes. The main reasons abscesses form are due to dirty needles or syringes, an unclean injection site, or contaminants in the heroin itself.
The Spread of Infection Through the Body
When an infection spreads throughout the body, one of the main impacts is on the heart. Endocarditis occurs when bacteria enters the heart and causes inflammation of the linings in the heart chambers. It can cause shortness of breath and swelling in the limbs and abdomen. When treated with antibiotics, it can take weeks for the heart to heal. If the heart is left untreated, valves can become damaged leading to heart failure or needing surgery to replace the valves. Both of these complications come with lifelong consequences.
Gangrene Growth From Heroin Abscess
Small or minor abscesses typically do not develop into infections and sometimes clear up on their own. If a heroin abscess becomes large and painful, it can rupture and release pus and bacteria into the bloodstream. The area on the skin will turn red at first and then green or black as the tissue begins to die. This is gangrene setting in, and the limb is slowly dying off.
Possible Amputation From Heroin Abscess
Gangrene works by killing tissue and even muscle as it progresses. Nerves will begin to die and there will be no feeling left in the area. Gangrene can spread quickly, and once in the bloodstream, it is difficult to slow the process. Amputating the limb at the site where the infection meets healthy skin and tissue can help save the remaining nerves and muscle from further damage. After the amputation, antibiotics will be needed to clear the rest of the infection from the body.
Things to Know About an Abscess From Heroin Use
It is crucial to seek treatment if an abscess becomes painful and especially if a fever develops. Heroin is cut with different substances, and in recent years a cutting agent known as “rizzy” has been emerging in the market. Rizzy is the powder that comes with store-bought flower bouquets to keep them fresher and for longer. When injected with heroin, skin necrosis has been noted in patients and has ranged in severity. When left untreated, surgery has been needed to remove the skin death.
Getting Treatment for Heroin Use Disorder
One of the many reasons those with heroin use disorder do not seek treatment is heroin withdrawal. Even though side effects of heroin such as abscesses are uncomfortable, it is even more painful to experience withdrawal symptoms. It can be hard to watch your loved one experiencing the vicious cycle of heroin use, but help is available to treat your loved one as a whole person.
Clean Recovery Centers has a full-spectrum of programs to help with the treatment of heroin addiction. Our unique, three-phase approach helps our clients find what path works for them as well as address mental health conditions whether they are previously diagnosed or discovered in our care. All of our facilities along the Suncoast have housing options certified by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR). We have helped hundreds to find recovery and get clean, live clean, and stay clean.
If you or someone you love has been managing a heroin use disorder and is ready for a change, look no further than Clean Recovery Centers. Our program incorporates therapy methods no one else is utilizing, such as rapid resolution therapy (RRT). We give you the tools and options to dive into the root causes of addiction within yourself, and recognize your strengths to build a lasting recovery. Call us today at (888) 330-2532 to learn more about our facilities and treatment options.
Why do heroin users get abscesses?
Using IV heroin can result in abscesses from dirty needles or syringes, an unclean injection site, or contaminants in the heroin.
What do abscesses from IV drug use look like?
Abscesses can range in size and look like a raised ball under the skin with redness and sometimes warm to the touch. When they are broken open, pus will be seen leaking from the wound.
Can you do heroin abscess drainage at home?
Abscesses are pockets of bacteria and if not drained in a sterile setting, can cause further complications. It is best to seek medical attention to have an abscess drained.