What is injecting drug use?
Injecting is a method of introducing a drug to the body. Instead of smoking, snorting, shafting or swallowing the drug, it is made into a liquid preparation, placed into a syringe, and injected into the body through a needle (Flemen, 2008:6). Injecting substances directly into the blood stream usually means the substance passes quickly into the brain and the onset of intoxication is far more rapid and effect far more powerful than other methods. The most commonly injected drugs by young people in Australia are heroin and methamphetamines, followed by pharmaceutical opioids like methadone and morphine. Benzodiazepines such as Alprazolam (Xanax) and other stimulants such as MDMA (ecstasy) can also be injected. Increasingly, bodybuilders are accessing NSP services to obtain sterile injecting equipment for the intramuscular administration of anabolic steroids.  

Why is safer injecting important?
Whilst injecting substances is an attractive method of use for some young people, it carries many risks. There are an estimated 10,000 new infections of Hepatitis C nationally, and 90% of these are contracted through unsafe injecting practices. Young people who inject drugs are at risk of a number of problems specifically associated with this mode of use including:

  • Transmission of blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis B and C, and HIV
  • Infections caused through injecting
  • Injuries caused by injecting
  • Increased risk of overdose

Furthermore, young people who inject drugs, particularly those who have been injecting for longer periods of time, are regarded in the research literature as a particularly vulnerable population, and are more likely than other drug users to experience problematic issues related to:

  • Physical health (including dental health)
  • Finances
  • Inter-personal relationships
  • Housing
  • Sustaining education or employment
  • Mental health
  • The legal system

Aims of safer injecting module:

  • To provide practitioners with an overview of injecting drug use and associated harms
  • To provide practitioners with harm reduction strategies that will enable young people to practice safer injecting drug use and therefore reduce the risk of harm
  • To provide practitioners with a knowledge of harm reduction strategies and treatment options that are relevant across the harm reduction continuum
  • To instil confidence in practitioners working with young people who inject drugs

An overview of injecting drug use
The fundamental purpose of safer injecting is to prevent the sharing of blood between individuals. However, all drug use happens within a context and any opportunity to work with young people on safer injecting is also an opportunity to develop other health promoting behaviours with them.

By exploring the function of the drug use (such as achieving intoxication or  seeking relief from trauma symptoms), practitioners can work holistically and collaboratively with young people who inject drugs to address the complex and inter-related factors that are associated with this behaviour. An example of this might be exploring the social setting of the young person’s use; the peer groups they associate with, identification with a particular subculture or scene and the strength of their relationships within a family or cultural group, which all potentially point to clues on how safety can be enhanced.

‘Safer injecting isn’t just about good injecting technique; it’s also about building in health promoting behaviours, personal safety, and a network of support around the young person.’

Working within a holistic framework to provide harm reduction information and resources to young people who inject drugs has several aims:

  • It can increase young people’s awareness of risk and assist them to explore opportunities for safer methods of use
  • It can provide young people who inject drugs with both the information and resources to reduce those risks associated with their use
  • It can explore and address the many other areas of risk that may be present in a young person’s life
  • It links young people into and provides opportunities for appropriate support and treatment services
  • It reduces the shame and stigma attached to injecting drug use and its associated sub-culture