What is Drug-related Harm?
Drug-related harm or problems is defined as those which have an obvious and/or demonstrated direct causal connection between the use of a drug / substance and a negative effect. The negative outcomes usually result from drug-diminished capacities and their effects on user behaviors.
Drug related harm or injury may be a direct result of the effect of the drug on the body or it may be a result of broader factors related to drug use, such as the way the drug is administered or accidents that occur while under the influence of the drug.
The three areas which determine the drug experience are:
Drug: type of drug; route of administration; mix of drugs used; purity and amount.
Individual factors: tolerance to drug or similar drug; experience of drug use; age; weight; height; gender and mood.
Environment: social setting or solo use; cultural background; prescribed or illegally obtained.
What are the types of drug-related harm?
Drug related injury or harms are broadly divided into two broad categories namely:
Acute Drug-related harm: Acute drug related harm, injuries or problems are defined as those which usually occur suddenly and often can be remedied in a relatively short time. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) estimates that alcohol-in-combination (alcohol used with another drug, the criterion for reporting this substance to DAWN) represents the most frequently reported category in drug-related hospital emergency department visits.
“Other drugs” (illicit drugs, accidentally misused, and intentionally abused legal medications) collectively represent an acute drug-caused problem that may equal or surpass Alcohol in this category.
These cases are usually thought of as overdoses, attributable to:
- Tolerance effects (the need to use increasingly larger doses to achieve the same Psychoactive effects).
- Inexperienced users with panic reactions, or
- The use of a substance of greater strength than intended or expected.
There also is increasing evidence that users of some drugs, such as Cocaine, can experience medical emergencies and deaths from seizure disorders and allergic reactions.
Chronic Drug-related harm
Chronic drug related harm, injuries or problems typically have a relatively gradual onset and tend to persist, sometimes indefinitely. Intravenous drug users can suffer from chronic cardiovascular problems that may be primarily attributable to infections and damage from “fillers” talcum powder, cornstarch, or baking soda added to drugs to increase volume, unit sales, and profits that have been injected. Some drugs especially the Designer Drugs, where an easily added molecule can produce a deadly variant of the intended substance are neurotropic/neuropathic (have an affinity for and do damage to nerve endings and tissue). Researchers and clinicians are studying and treating individuals who are afflicted with Parkinson’s disease caused by such “party” drugs.
Chronic drug-induced problems is particularly tragic because the individuals most damaged are totally innocent and defenseless against the substances that can cause them permanent disabilities or even death.