Heroin use and addiction are associated with a number of serious health concerns, including the risk of developing a bloodborne disease, heroin overdose, and the consequences of drug abuse.
A heroin abscess is one health risk that’s specifically associated with injecting, or “shooting,” heroin. Without treatment, an abscess can lead to issues such as sepsis, amputation, or even death.
People with a heroin addiction can achieve sobriety by enrolling in an evidence-based drug abuse treatment program.
What Is A Heroin Abscess?
A heroin abscess is a form of soft-tissue infection that can develop from injecting heroin.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine describes this as a pocket of pus that can develop as a result of your immune system’s reaction to fighting off bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
What Does A Heroin Abscess Look Like?
Early signs of an abscess include swelling, tenderness, and redness at or around a drug injection site, such as an arm, hand, or leg. This can develop as a hard, pus-filled mass under the skin.
Abscesses are generally easy to detect.
Characteristics of an abscess include:
- raised skin
- foul smell
- oozing pus (a thick, white, yellowish, or cloudy liquid)
Untreated, or severe, abscesses will become dark red, then eventually green, purple, and black as the surrounding tissue begins to decay.
What Causes Heroin Abscesses?
Among those who use heroin, an abscess will generally develop from a bacterial infection.
According to the National Harm Reduction Coalition, risk factors include:
- using unsanitary drug use equipment (shared or dirty needles)
- reusing injection equipment
- injecting into the tissue around the vein (“missed hit”)
- injecting a solution that has particles in it
- skin-popping drugs that can cause damage to the skin and muscle tissue, such as cocaine or amphetamines
When an infection develops, your body’s immune system will immediately kick into gear to fight off the infection.
Your body’s white blood cells will then rush to the area to fight it off. In this process, white blood cells will collect within the damaged tissue, which can cause inflammation.
This process can also result in the formation of pus, a mixture of white blood cells, dead tissue, and germs, that can then harden into an abscess.
What Is The Treatment For An Abscess?
Treatment for an abscess will generally involve a combination of draining and antibiotics. An abscess can be drained in a hospital or medical clinic.
Additional treatment may be required if the abscess is left untreated and additional medical complications, such as gangrene or a blood infection, arise.
What Are The Risks Of An Abscess?
Heroin abscesses are a sign of heroin abuse and addiction. Abscesses can also lead to serious health problems when left untreated.
Complications can include:
- sepsis and septic shock
- amputation (if severe gangrene develops)
- organ damage (lung damage, brain damage)
Untreated abscesses can become life-threatening. In order to prevent serious or life-threatening consequences, it’s important to seek medical help as soon as you suspect you have an abscess.
When Should I Seek Help For An Abscess?
If you begin to notice signs of an abscess on or near an injection site, it is highly recommended that you visit a doctor or healthcare provider for medical advice.
Abscesses can develop within days of injection. Left untreated by a medical professional, they can lead to infection in the blood, bones, heart, and other vital organs.
Signs you should seek help immediately include:
- purple, green, or black skin
- extreme fatigue
- pain in the groin or armpits (where your lymph nodes are)
- general pain at the site of the lump or mass
- a thin dark line moving from the abscess
Do not attempt to drain, pop, or squeeze the pus out of the abscess at home by yourself. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, go to your nearest emergency room for medical care.
Tips For Preventing Abscesses From Drug Injection
Abscesses from powdered heroin and black tar heroin use are preventable.
Below are some tips for preventing the formation of an abscess and preventing serious complications that can arise from an abscess.
Harm reduction is an approach to drug use that aims to prevent or mitigate the consequences of drug use.
This includes the development of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B, HIV/AIDS, and issues like skin lesions and abscesses.
Harm reduction tips for preventing a skin abscess include:
- avoid using reused, shared, or unsanitary injection equipment
- use a warm compress on the injection site if you miss a vein
- elevate the limb and injection site for at least 30 minutes
- wash your hands regularly to avoid the spread of bacteria
- do not continue to inject drugs into or near the affected area
Opioid Detox And Drug Addiction Treatment
The best way to prevent abscesses and other consequences of IV drug use is to stop using heroin. If you use heroin regularly, this may not be as simple as it sounds.
A heroin addiction treatment program may be recommended to help you safely detox and recover from the effects of addiction.
Treatment options for substance abuse may include:
- detox services
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
- substance use counseling
- mental health treatment
- group therapy for people using illicit drugs
- social services
- relapse prevention
- medical treatment
- aftercare support and follow-up
Find Addiction Treatment For Heroin Today
Call us today to learn more about heroin addiction, including potential risks such as heroin abscesses.
Overcoming heroin addiction is possible. At DetoxRehabs.net, we aim to help people and their loved ones attain access to effective, high-quality treatment and resources.Article Sources
- National Harm Reduction Coalition
- United Kingdom (UK) National Health Services (NHS)
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus