Increased Risks of IV Drug Use in Young Adults

Increased Risks of IV Drug Use in Young Adults

Increased Risks of IV Drug Use in Young Adults

Increased Risks of IV Drug Use in Young AdultsIntravenous (IV) drug abuse  is the standard term for the recreational, medically unnecessary injection of drugs directly into the body’s circulatory system. People who use drugs in this manner experience sharply increased chances of developing a range of serious and possibly fatal health problems. In a study published in October 2013 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Australian researchers looked at IV drug users’ age as a contributing factor to their involvement in particularly risky behaviors linked to intravenous drug intake. These researchers concluded that younger adults who use IV drugs clearly engage in these dangerous practices more often than their older counterparts.

IV Drug Abuse Basics

IV drug abuse is most classically associated with the injection of the opioid narcotic drug heroin. However, IV drug users may also inject a number of other substances, including amphetamine, cocaine, the dissociative anesthetic ketamine, the dissociative anesthetic PCP (phencyclidine or “angel dust”) and methamphetamine. In addition, some users crush prescription pills or tablets—such as oxycodone, hydrocodone or certain forms of amphetamine—and use the resulting powder as the basis for an injectable drug solution.

The risks associated with IV drug intake are numerous. First, drugs that pass directly into the bloodstream circulate to the brain and other key areas of the body with great speed, and therefore have the ability to produce powerful, rapidly occurring and potentially damaging changes in normal organ system function. Drugs designed for injection or adapted for injection also commonly contain added substances or contaminants that can cause further harm to the brain or to the heart and blood vessels. In addition, IV drug use carries major risks for various forms of infection, especially when done in an unsanitary or reckless manner. Examples of the highly dangerous infectious agents frequently linked to intravenous drug intake include the HIV virus, HTLVs (human T-lymphotropic virus), the hepatitis B and C viruses, and several bacteria species capable of severely injuring organs throughout the body.

High-Risk IV Drug Behaviors

While all IV drug abuse presents a serious health risk, certain behaviors related to this abuse are more dangerous than others and increase the chances of experiencing severely negative or fatal drug outcomes. Examples of these high-risk behaviors include sharing contaminated needles with other drug users, engaging in unsafe sexual practices involving the exchange of certain body fluids, having sex with other IV drug users, having sex with paid sex workers and using drugs in public environments.

Current Findings

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from eight Australian institutions used an eleven-year project called the Australian Illicit Drug Reporting System to examine the drug-related behaviors of almost 6,800 IV drug users between the ages of 27 and 40. On average, these individuals had been taking drugs intravenously for 13 years. The researchers assessed each participant for four specific factors that indicate a high-risk pattern of drug intake. These factors were a willingness to share needles with others, a willingness to inject drugs in publicly accessible locations, a recent history of significant health difficulties related to IV drug use, and a recent history of experiencing a heroin-related overdose. To assess the impact of age on the chances of exposure to these factors, the researchers looked at the outcomes associated with each five-year age increase among the study participants.

When the researchers completed their analysis, they concluded that, with every five-year increase in IV drug users’ age, the chances of experiencing injection-associated health problems or getting involved in needle sharing fall substantially. They also concluded that, among recent injectors of heroin, overdose levels drop by 10 percent for each five-year age jump.


In Australia, older adult IV drug users outnumber younger adult IV drug users by a considerable margin. Despite this fact, the authors of the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence note, younger users commonly pose a greater health risk, both to themselves and (by extension) to the larger public. Because of the high-risk behaviors associated with intravenous drug intake among young adults, the authors recommend that public health officials continue to focus a significant portion of their drug use reduction and prevention efforts on these individuals. While the researchers did not examine the age-related trends in risky injection behaviors among IV drug users in the U.S., their findings may very well apply (to one degree or another) to younger and older American IV drug-using populations.

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