Safer Drug Use
What is safer drug use?
Harm Reduction Victoria does not encourage drug use. We encourage safer drug use for people who inject drugs to prevent HIV and viral hepatitis as well as other potential harms associated with injecting drug use.
Harm Reduction Victoria encourages you to do anything you can, no matter how small, which moves your injecting practices in a safer direction. Any attempt at making things safer is better than no attempt at all.
The Chicago Recovery Alliance promotes ‘any positive change’ which amounts to the same thing i.e. they support you to make any positive or health enhancing change you can regarding your drug use.
Hepatitis C & B are blood borne viruses (BBVs) which means they are transmitted when the blood from someone with the virus gets into someone else’s blood stream.
Transmission can happen when preparing a mix or helping someone else to inject; it can happen if you have blood on your hands and you don’t wash your hands prior to injecting or helping someone else to inject. For more information about transmission refer to AIVL’s website.
There is one sure way to avoid contracting a blood borne virus (BBV) such as hepatitis C or B or HIV and that is by not injecting. If you choose to inject, there are a few things you can do to make your injecting safer and to help keep you BBV free.
Some safer drug use tips for people who inject drugs:
– Be blood aware! Be aware of all the places and surfaces where blood can end up during the injecting process, like your skin, your fingertips, the table top, etc.
– Just because a syringe looks clean, doesn’t mean it is! It’s the little bits of blood that we can’t see that are the problem.
– HIV taught us all about the risks of sharing needles/syringes. Remember the HIV prevention message? It was ‘A new fit for every hit’.
– With hepatitis C, safer drug use extends to not sharing any of the equipment involved in injecting, i.e. needles/syringes, spoons, swabs, filters, mixing and rinsing water, ties or tourniquets. Invisible amounts of blood on various items of injecting equipment have been shown to include enough virus to spread it from one person to another when injecting equipment is shared.
– When a group of people put their money together to score, the drugs are usually divided up in solution (rather than in powder or rock form) so that everyone gets what they paid for. Everyone may have the equipment they need to use safely i.e. a new needle/syringe, sterile water, swabs and even use a fresh piece of cotton wool for the filter. So far so good! However, if the person who rolls the filter into a ball and drops it in the mix fails to wash their hands prior to mulling up, they could possibly contaminate the entire mix. If they happen to have fresh blood on their hands and they are hep C + they could infect other members of the group.
– Wash your hands before mixing up and having your whack. We all know that washing hands is basic to infection control and it’s an important part of safer drug use. No access to running water? Use swabs to wipe your hands, paying special attention to your fingertips (as that is the part of your hands you use when mixing up)
– It is important to take care of your veins. If you have ‘bad’ veins, i.e. abscesses, blocked veins, scarring, etc, there’s likely to be more blood around due to multiple attempts at finding a vein when injecting – which in turn increases the risk of hep C infection especially during group injecting scenarios or when injecting equipment is shared.
– Harm Reduction Victoria approaches vein care as a BBV prevention strategy which could have a big impact on BBV infection rates if taken up by people who inject drugs
For more information about safer injecting go to AIVL’s website:
Injecting drugs can be a risky business – as well as the risk of BBVs like HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B, there are numerous other potential risks including abscesses, overdose, collapsed veins, etc. With illicit drugs, the unknown factor – that you don’t know what you’ve got until you try it – will always add to the risks involved. Here are some more tips about safer drug use.
More safer drug use tips:
– If you have to use in a public place, stop and think before deciding where to inject. How much privacy are you prepared to risk? Try to find somewhere private enough that you don’t have to rush – that’s when mistakes happen – but not so private that you won’t be found if you drop.
– No clean space to mix up? Use the paper bag your fits came in as the ‘clean space’ to put your spoon on. A clean surface is important to prevent spread of bacteria.
– No access to soap & running water? Use swabs to wipe your hands, paying special attention to your fingertips. Wipe in one direction only otherwise you are just moving the dirt around.
– We are fortunate in Melbourne that our tap water supply is pretty safe for injecting. For hierarchy of best to worst water for injecting refer to Handy Hints ‘Which water is best to use?’ AIVL website.
– If you are using bottled water, make sure it’s a new bottle and that you don’t drink from it. No matter how careful you are, germs from your mouth will get into the water which will be nasty if they get into your blood stream (even if it’s from your own mouth)
– Also, if you’re trying out new dope or you have scored from a different source, try to use with a friend or get someone to check on you by phone in 10 minutes in case it is stronger than expected and you O.D.
– Try not to use alone or lock doors due to the risk of overdose. We look forward to the day when we can encourage you all to carry an overdose reversal kit (i.e. naloxone/narcan).
(The Victorian Health Dept has expressed in principle support for peer training and distribution of naltrexone. However, there is no movement on this front in Victoria at the present time.)
– Safe disposal is an important part of safer drug use. You can dispose of all your used injecting paraphernalia in a sharp safe including swabs and wrappers and return it to the NSP if possible.