The Dangers of Opioids: Smoking, Snorting, & Injecting

Opioids are powerful painkilling drugs. They are prescribed by doctors for patients in moderate to severe pain. The illegal street drug, heroin, is also a potent opioid.

Any opioid use, whether prescribed by a doctor for a legitimate medical use or obtained on the streets, can lead to a substance use disorder, opioid dependence, or opioid addiction and by taking an opioid, a person risks experiencing a life-threatening opioid overdose. 1 When used appropriately under the guidance and direction of a physician, opioid medications can be effective pain relievers; however, recent research suggests that even doctors have no reliable way of identifying patients who can be safely prescribed opioid painkillers.2

Is It More Dangerous to Snort, Smoke, or Inject Opioids?

Opioid medications are typically taken orally, either by swallowing a pill or dissolving a film placed beneath the tongue.4 Someone misusing opioids may be taking them in several other ways, such as by:4,5

  • Snorting: Using a powered form of the drug (such as heroin) or grinding up the pills (such as with prescription opioids) into a powder and inhaling it through your nose.
  • Smoking: Heating up the substance and smoking it or vaping it using a vape device.
  • Injecting: Mixing the powder (heroin or ground-up pill) into a solution and injecting it with a needle into your veins or muscles.

In addition to increasing the risk of dependence and addiction as well as the risk of a life-threatening overdose, each of the above methods presents unique dangers.4

Dangers of Snorting Opioids

Snorting opioids can result in:4,6-10

  • Nasal pain.
  • Irritation of the nose and throat.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Damage to the soft tissues inside the nose.
  • Holes in the nasal septum (the bit of tissue separating the nostrils), especially when opioids are used in conjunction with cocaine or when the opioids contain acetaminophen (e.g., Percocet).
  • Increased risk of fungal and bacterial infection or acquiring and spreading bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis C or HIV from sharing tools used to snort opioids.

Dangers of Smoking Opioids

The risks of smoking opioids can include:11-14

  • Chronic cough.
  • Wheezing.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Impaired lung functioning.
  • Chronic bronchitis.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Inflammation and scarring inside the lungs, as well as thickening of the bronchial walls.
  • Emphysema.
  • Pneumonia (infection and inflammation in the lungs).

Dangers of Injecting Opioids

This is the most dangerous route of administration to the user. The risks of injecting opioids can include: 3,9,15,16

  • Acquiring HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne diseases.
  • Bacterial and fungal infections such as endocarditis (injection of the heart lining and valves), cellulitis (serious skin infection), osteomyelitis (bone infection), and sepsis.
  • Abscesses.
  • Track marks/scarring.
  • Collapsed veins.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
  • Liver and kidney disease.

Getting Treatment for an Opioid Problem

Anxious woman

Seeking treatment for opioid addiction can help you to take back control of your health, improve your well-being, and start you on a journey to recovery.17 Depending on your specific needs, you may require different levels of care.

Greenhouse Treatment Center offers a full continuum of opioid addiction treatment care that includes:

  • Medical detox, which helps you safely and comfortably withdraw from opioids so you can become medically stable and enter a rehabilitation program.
  • Residential treatment, where you live on campus and receive round-the-clock monitoring and support. You will participate in treatments such as individual counseling, group therapy, and other therapeutic activities.
  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP), which is an intensive form of outpatient treatment. You live at home but attend treatment onsite. This is a step-down from inpatient care and provides a high level of care and highly structured treatment, during which you’ll attend 3–7 days of therapy per week for 6–8 hours per day.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP), which is less intensive than a PHP but still offers a high level of support. You’ll live at home but attend treatment and therapy 3–7 days per week for a minimum of 3 hours per day.
  • Standard outpatient, which includes weekly counseling, drug education, and a connection to the sober community.
  • Sober living accomodations, which is a supportive residence where you’ll live and receive support from clinicians as well as others in recovery from substance use disorders as you reintegrate into your daily life.

If you’re ready to start moving along the path to recovery, call us today at to speak to a treatment advisor about the rehab options that are best for your needs. You can verify your insurance benefits right away using our online form.

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