Harm reduction is a way to help people be safer when they do things that could be dangerous, like using drugs. It tries to reduce the bad things that can happen by meeting people where they are instead of telling people to stop doing what they’re doing.
People who inject drugs have additional risks to consider when using. Injection sites can become infected and using non-sterile equipment can spread diseases. If you inject drugs, here are some ways you can do so as safely as possible.
Use Sterile Supplies
There’s a reason doctors only use sterile equipment when drawing your blood: used needles are dangerous. They can spread infections and the sharp end dulls with time, which can lead to injury.
Keep yourself and others safe by only using sterile supplies once, never sharing them, and disposing of them properly after.
Take Care of Your Veins
Veins are delicate and it’s easy to injure them. Use your arms as much as possible and start low on the vein, working your way up in the direction of your heart. Try to alternate the arms you use each day and don’t inject in an arm with any sign of infection or injury. Make sure you can see the needle hole when you’re injecting. Don’t inject into arteries (wrist, neck, groin) or your feet.
Double Down on Other Harm Reduction Strategies
Injected drugs are especially potent, so you should be extra cautious when using them. Don’t use alone and make sure you have naloxone on you in case of an overdose. Test your drugs for fentanyl so you don’t get any unpleasant surprises. Start slow and with small amounts; you can always add more later.
Look Out for Signs of Infection
Some reactions are minor and probably don’t warrant a trip to the emergency room. For example:
- A little redness or swelling
- Open skin
- Red skin
If you encounter any of these symptoms, make sure to keep the site clean by washing with soap and water. Rest and elevate your arm and, if there’s no open injury, you can apply an oatmeal or baking soda solution mixed with water to calm redness and itching. Try not to scratch any healing wounds.
Some reactions, however, are more severe and require immediate medical attention:
- Gray/blue/pale skin of hands or feet
- Affected area gets bigger or spreads
- Seeing bone or muscle
- Skin blackening (go to emergency room immediately!)
If you’re ever in doubt, seek medical help. Erring on the side of caution could save your life.