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Addiction Wound Care

It is no secret that drug addiction can cause serious problems with your overall health, and even damage your organs. It may surprise you to learn the area of the body most prone to damage from drug use: your skin. Many people do not realize that our skin is not only in fact our largest organ, but also often the first place that addiction-related injuries appear. An estimated one-third of addicts develop a drug-related wound each year. These wounds can result from what drugs you are using, how you are using them, & impurities that they may contain.

Most Common Addiction Wounds


Cocaine and crack cocaine can cause a few different types of skin wounds. These most often happen as a result of injecting them. A few may happen even if you instead smoke or snort it. The most common addiction wound care needs seen in cocaine users can include:

  • Necrosis, or the death of skin cells
  • Fibrous tissue formation just under the skin
  • Blackening of the palms, also called ‘crack hands’, from smoking crack
  • Skin ulcers and abscesses
  • Loss of cartilage in the nose
  • Pustulosis, which are small, pimple-like raised areas of the skin that are filled with pus, and can pop open and bleed
  • Inflamed blood vessels within the skin, which causes red spots that can bleed
  • Inflamed veins just under the skin, which swell and turn red

The main reason why cocaine can lead to a need for addiction wound care is because it’s often ‘cut’ with toxic substances. The most common is levamisole, a cow and horse dewormer. When this medication is taken by a human for a long period of time, it can build up in your tissues. This leads to open skin sores and even rotting of the skin.


Another drug with a potential for needing addiction wound care is heroin. This usually happens when people choose to inject heroin. This can lead to scarring of the veins, sometimes called ‘track marks’. Over time, this can cause other problems like skin lesions, abscesses, skin infections, cellulitis, an infection of the soft tissue under the skin, and sepsis, a potentially deadly infection in the blood. Much like cocaine, heroin is also cut with dangerous chemicals, most commonly citric acid. When injected, this quite literally causes acid burns in the blood vessels, veins, and other tissues, which can lead to necrotic or dead tissue. If not treated as soon as possible, necrotic tissue can lead to amputation.


Perhaps one of the most commonly recognized addiction wounds are from methamphetamine, or meth. People who are addicted to meth often have small open sores on their face or arms. These are the result of ‘meth mites’. Meth mites are hallucinations that people have while high on meth that make them think tiny bugs are under their skin. This leads users to pick at their skin to try and dig the imaginary bugs out. These open sores present a huge risk of infection, especially if you aren’t paying attention to your personal hygiene. Failing to care for infection skin sores can lead to abscesses, tissue death, sepsis, and amputation.


One of the lesser-known drugs when it comes to addiction wound care, krokodil is a drug that is a type of desomorphine, an illegal semi-synthetic opioid. It gets its name from the gray-green scaly gangrene skin ulcers it causes. It is said to look like crocodile skin. Krokodil has been gaining popularity in Russia for over a decade. While still uncommon in the U.S., it has been found in about four different states.

This drug is illicitly made using a mixture of codeine and toxic chemicals like gasoline, paint thinner, and battery acid, which is what makes it so dangerous. This means that, when this drug is injected, users have a high risk of developing wounds like skin and bone infections, abscesses, skin and tissue death, and sepsis. Common street names for krokodil include ‘flesh-eating drug’ and ‘zombie drug’This is because of the very serious wounds it can cause within a short period of time.

Addiction Wound Care Tips

If you are addicted to a drug that is causing wounds on or under the skin, you need to make an effort to take care of these wounds. It is almost impossible for these wounds to heal themselves if you are still in the grip of addiction. Most rehab and detox facilities have a lot of experience in addiction wound care, and can help both heal your body and help you overcome your addiction. If you aren’t ready to seek help at a rehab, you still need to receive addiction wound care. Here is what you need to do to keep your wounds from becoming life-threatening:

  • Keep the wound free of dirt or debris. Wash or disinfect the area at least twice a day, and dry it carefully by patting it with a clean cloth or paper towel.
  • If the wound is deep or infected, seek help from a medical professional. Emergency rooms frequently help people with addiction wound care needs, so they know how to treat these issues. They can also recommend ways for you to help the wound heal at home.
  • Your body uses fat and protein to heal, so make an effort to eat them both in order to speed up the healing process.
  • If at any point you have a fever, chills, pain around the wound, or soreness in your armpits or groin, go to the emergency room immediately. These can all be signs of a serious infection such as sepsis, which needs to be treated as soon as possible.

While asking for help can be difficult, it is necessary in order to prevent long-term health risks. Always remember that you aren’t alone, and that medical professionals are there to help you. Wound care could be the first step to you getting the help you need to quit drugs for good.