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Heroin: Medical Ramifications

To return to the first part of the series, “Introduction to Heroin Abuse and Addiction” Click here

Side Effects of Heroin: Medical Ramifications

There are many physical heroin side effects, medical consequences of chronic heroin injection use including:

  • Scarred and/or collapsed veins.
  • Bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves.
  • Abscesses (boils) and other soft-tissue infections.
  • Liver or kidney disease.
  • Lung complications (including various types of pneumonia and tuberculosis) may result from the poor health condition of the abuser as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration.

In addition to the direct complications of heroin, since it is never sold as pure heroin there are all of the additives and “cutters” that have to be considered too; many of the additives in street heroin may include substances that do not readily dissolve and result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in vital organs. Immune reactions to these or other contaminants can cause arthritis or other rheumatologic problems.

Of course, sharing of injection equipment or fluids can lead to some of the most severe consequences of heroin abuse- infections with hepatitis B and C, HIV, and a host of other bloodborne viruses, which drug abusers can be passed on sexually, and even to unborn children.

View next part in the series, “Heroin: Risks During Pregnancy.” Return to the first part in the series “Introduction to Heroin Abuse and Addiction.”

The above information is from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Research Report Series – “Heroin Abuse and Addiction”. The report is also available at NIDA’s website at

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