Track marks have long been associated with IV drug abuse, and in particular, heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine.
What Exactly Are ‘Track Marks’?
Technically speaking, a track mark is a scar – one that forms both at an injection site and along the vein used.
In medical terms, a track mark is a combination of “post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation at the injection site” and “sclerosis of the underlying veins”, which is the hardening of veins as a result of repeated trauma caused by frequent injections.
Track marks develop as a result of repeated use of the same veins to inject both legal and illicit drugs, and the use of any needle can lead to track marks, however, track marks tend to be synonymous with ‘junkies’.
Track marks are more visible on light-skinned people, and track marks almost never appear in the non-dominant arm of IV drug users.
Do Different Drugs Make Track Marks Worse?
In some cases, yes. So-called ‘dirty drugs’ such as black tar heroin are known to make track marks worse. These IV drugs that have been cut with substances to dilute the actual drug, and these substances can irritate both the skin at the injection site.
When injected, the impurities in the substances used to ‘cut’ the drugs can also leave a residue in the veins, leading to the appearance of dark-colored lines just below the skin.
Can Non-IV Drug Users Have Track Marks?
The answer is “yes”. There are a number of valid medical conditions that can lead to the appearance of track marks, along with other signs and symptoms that are typically associated with illegal IV drug use. For example, people who suffer from Immune Thrombocytopenia (ITP) are often mistaken as ‘junkies’, as Meghan describes in her blog post titled “My Tips to Not Looking Like A Junkie”. Dialysis to treat kidney failure can also cause track marks to develop, as can insulin-dependent diabetes.
Do Track Marks Go Away?
Track marks do sometimes go away. Over half of all recovering IV drug users still had visible track marks after refraining from drug use for 5 years, while some users did experience either a reduction in, or complete disappearance of their track marks.
Can Track Marks Be Prevented?
Aside from completely avoiding injection drug use altogether it’s impossible to completely prevent the development of track marks, however, there are ways to minimize swelling at the injection site.
Using a sterile, new needle can minimize the risk of track marks developing, because reusing needles dulls the tip, which in turn causes more trauma at the injection site. It’s also advisable to choose the small-gauge needle, and rotate injection sites frequently, looking for plump, well-defined veins.
Applying and maintaining pressure over the injection site immediately after the needle is withdrawn is also advisable, while topical creams containing Arnica and cold compresses may help reduce bruising.
Is There A Way To Conceal Track Marks?
Aside from wearing clothing that covers the track marks, concealing track marks can be difficult.
Some IV drug users report attempting to use make-up to cover up track marks temporarily with varying degrees of success. Temporary and permanent tattoos are also a popular option among regular drug users looking to reduce the appearance of their track marks
Can Laser Treatments Erase Track Marks?
In some cases, yes, laser treatments can erase track marks. Researchers at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. have confirmed that medical-grade laser treatments has been successfully used to reduce the appearance of bluish-gray pigmentation in a 31-year old female who had a history of chronic IV heroin use, however, the laser provided “no improvement in post inflammatory hyperpigmentation“.
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