When it comes to IV drug use, clean and sterile syringes are an absolute must. While they are usually fairly accessible, there is still the very big problem of syringe reuse amongst intravenous drug users. Whether the needle exchange is closed, its outside pharmacy business hours, or for whatever reason clean syringes aren't accessible; almost every IV drug user has encountered the situation where they are forced to make a very risky decision when it comes to their health. Reuse an old syringe, or wait to do the hit? Unfortunately, many will make the dangerous choice of reuse, and sadly there is certainly no shortage of articles and instructables online claiming effective and safe methods to reuse syringes. Spoiler alert: Reuse of syringes is far from safe, nor is it a good idea. Ever.
Using a syringe on multiple occasions is a much more common occurrence amongst IV drug users than you might think. A much as we'd like to be able to use a fresh clean needle every time, that's not always feasible. I won't lie - when I was still using, I did it many times when my supply of clean needles ran short. I've seen it happen amongst other users on so many occasions I've lost count, and unfortunately witnessed addicts fishing out used, dirty syringes from needle disposal bins late in the night. When accessing a free, clean syringe isn't an easiest task, the health and safety of IV drug users is put at risk.
Enter the right search terms into Google, and you'll find an abundant supply of articles and how-to's. Ranging from various methods of sterilizing a needle yourself, instructions for bleaching syringes, and how to sharpen an old, dull syringe; websites and articles touting instructions are not only incredibly dangerous, but highly ill informed. It is never, ever a good idea to reuse a syringe, regardless of whether you've cleaned or sharpened it. If you perform these procedures wrong in even the slightest way, you can end up with some disastrous effects. What exactly are the risks? Let's take a look.
When viewed under a microscope, the damage to a syringe after each successive injection is undeniable. After just one single use, the tip of a syringe can go from precise and sharp, to a mess of blunt, bent metal and a ruined beveled tip. Pretty scary stuff right? Not exactly something you'd want to stick in your veins. It can cause plenty of damage in the short term as well as the long, with problems ranging from collapsed veins, reduced circulation, blood clots, embolisms, infections, as well as causing scarring and permanent damage to tissues. If the decision is made to attempt sharpening the needle, you are also taking the risk of shaved off shards of metal possibly getting lodged inside the needle or plastic barrel, and the run the risk of it entering the body. As you might imagine, this is a highly undesirable and unsafe scenario.
Another problem that comes along with the reuse of syringes is the risk of contracting any number of different infections and diseases. A very preventable, but highly common problem amongst IV drug users are abscesses. I'll warn you now - that's probably not something you want to type into Google unless you're prepared for some graphic images. Caused by bacteria forced into the body through a syringe, abscesses are painful, puss filled masses that most commonly occur over the injection site on the skin. Luckily, abscesses are treatable, although it's not exactly a comfortable process to have it lanced and drained in the ER, and then packed daily by a nurse for weeks (trust me, I know). Unfortunately, many IV drug users end up with problems that are not so easily treatable. Diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV are serious diseases that can be contracted through the reuse and sharing of syringes, and will follow the user for life.
There is hope breaking on the horizon though, as some interesting new syringe designs are being produced with the aim of helping to reduce the incidence of syringe reuse. There are varying models and designs now available that help to ensure a syringe will in fact be 'single use only'. How exactly is this accomplished. While different models employ different methods, generally an auto destruct syringe provides an effective way of ensuring that a needle is in fact only used once by ceasing to function after the first injection. Some versions will cause the plunger to lock up after one use, others causing the plunger to snap off altogether, or have a removable plastic tabs to indicate if the syringe has been used before.
By implementing these new auto destruct syringes into the current model of Harm Reduction, as well as further educating IV drug users of the dangers associated with syringe refuse, the rate of occurrence as well as the risks of infection and disease, can be drastically reduced. Harm reduction works.
Originally appeared on Studio L Online