Reuse and sharing of needles and
needles and syringes is less prevalent than sharing of other injection
paraphernalia (Strike et al., 2010), but it is still quite common. In Scotland
(Scott, 2008), 10-12% of people who inject drugs (PWID) used someone else’s syringe
in the last month and 8-12% have kept their syringe for someone else to use. In
addition, 65-70% of the people kept their own needles for reuse. In a
prospective multicentric study in the US, Hagan et al. (2010), found that 49%
of the people had used a syringe previously used by others during a study
period of 6 months up to 1 year; Strike et al. (2010) found that 36% of PWID in
English speaking Canada reported distributive needle sharing. In France, an
estimated 170 syringes are distributed or sold per person who injects drugs,
which equals less than half a syringe per person per day (INSERM, 2010). One
can easily imagine that reuse (or sharing) of syringes remains very high.
to "deliberate" or "knowledgeable” syringe sharing (which may be due to
a lack of equipment available at a given time and place), some situations
foster confusion. One can think of a festive atmosphere, or the presence of a
large quantity of paraphernalia resulting in confusion about their ownership during
group injection, the context of intensive use or psychoactive effects of
A survey in
France (Debrus, 2008) showed that the vast majority (85%) of PWID has already
injected in the presence of other injectors and 45% of them have ever had doubts
as to the ownership of the equipment used. Distribution of tools with different
colours can allow PWID to differentiate their tools from those of others. Even
if the main goal remains single use of sterile paraphernalia, reuse is rather a
rule than an exception (Debrus, 2008), the colours will enable one to reuse his
own material. The colours also
visually support the message not to share equipment.
Preference for syringe type and dead space
without an attached needle are sometimes preferred by PWID because these are
available in all sizes (2 ml, 5 ml, etc.) and because they enable the use of
different types of needle (the type of needle used depends on the injection
site, vein health, the type of drug used…). Though it is important to provide
the tools needed by clients, the use of these syringes should be discouraged.
their major disadvantages is that they have a much higher dead space or void
volume, which means that they contain much more fluid once the plunger is fully
depressed (Heimer & Abdala, 2000; Zule et al., 1997). This fluid can be almost entirely
composed of blood due to the process of "booting”:
after injection, the person pulls up the plunger to mix the last bit of drug
with his/ her blood and reinject.
a syringe is subsequently rinsed, in the case of (accidental) sharing, the risk
of viral transmission is higher when detachable syringes are used (Bobashav &
Zule, 2010, Gyarmathy et al., 2010 ; Zule & Bobashev, 2009 ; Zule et al.,
both HIV and hepatitis C virus have been found present in higher numbers. They
also survive for longer periods of time in high dead space (HDS) syringes and
are more infectious at all times (Heimer & Abdala, 2000; Paintsil et al.,
Retractable syringes or difficult to use
types of self-destructing or difficult to use syringes exist. The general
purpose of these syringes it that they can’t be used a second time. Different
mechanisms exist to obtain this (according to US Congress, 1992, Des Jarlais et
hydrophilic gel is placed inside the syringe. In contact with the solution to
be injected, this gel expands and disables the plunger or closes the passage
way through the needle.
plunder is disabled when the user attempts to reload the syringe for a second
time. Often, this design is easy to defeat.
needle is disabled after a first use. This mechanism often only works when the
user chooses to actively disable the needle so that someone who does not want
to do disable the syringe does not have to. The advantage of these syringes is
thus not the prevention of reuse or viral infections, but the prevention of
needle stick injuries.
that have valves with a one-way flow mechanism.
These syringes can be loaded and emptied, but not reloaded.
these syringes is 100% perfect; the mechanism can always be defeated.
The use of auto-disable syringes to prevent transmission of blood-borne
illnesses among PWID has been proposed and rejected in the Netherlands,
Australia and the United States (US Congress, 1992; Des Jarlais et al). Apothicom subscribes to their
position and to the one of the Harm Reduction Coalition
and chooses not to commercialise this type of syringe for the following reasons
(described in more details in the report of the US Congress, 1992; Des Jarlais
of all, all mechanisms can be defeated. As people can thus choose to reuse them
again, these (more expensive) syringes do not have a high added value
defeat these mechanisms, some syringes need to be taken apart, increasing the
risks of injury and bacterial contaminations due to manipulation
be able to reuse some of these syringes, the plunger should not be inserted
completely, which increases the syringe’s dead space which can actually
increase viral risk in case of sharing
syringes distributed to PWID do not cover the needs. "One syringe for every
injection” is simply not available. When "difficult to use syringes” are given
out, the quantity that needs to be provided to avoid scarcity of syringes is
much higher (more than 700 syringes per PWID per year). As this is probably
impossible to do in most contexts, scarcity will increase the value of other, reusable
syringes. "This situation might actually
lead to more multiperson use (sharing) of illicit drug-injection equipment and
hence an increase in HIV transmission among injecting drug users” (US Congress, 1992; Des Jarlais et
This rationale is corroborated by a mathematical modeling study performed
by Caulkins et al. (1998). They showed that replacing standard syringes with
auto-disable syringes will be likely to increase the incidence of HIV among
injection drug users.
Viral contaminations due to the reuse
and sharing of needles and syringes
The presence of HIV (antibodies, DNA
or RNA) has been detected in 20-94% of the used syringes examined by Chitwood
et al. (1990), Kaplan and Heimer (1995) and Shah et al. (1996).
When one focuses on the viability of the virus inside the syringe, that is to
say, the presence of virus that has the ability to cause infection, HIV is
found in higher numbers and remains alive for a longer period of time in high
dead space syringes (those with detachable needles, the so called Luer
syringes) than in low dead space syringes (Heimer & Abdala, 2000; Zule et
al., 1997; Zule et al., 2013). In the case of (accidental) sharing, the risk of
viral transmission is thus higher with these syringes.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is more
virulent and infectious than HIV. HCV has been detected in 70% of the used syringes
examined by Crofts et al. (2000). Inside syringes without an attached needle,
this virus remains infectious for 63 days, while syringes with an attached
needle no longer contained viable virus from the second day on (Paintsil et
al., 2010). In the field, needle sharing has been confirmed as a risk factor
for the transmission of hepatitis. C. Pouget and Others (2011) conducted a
meta-analysis of 21 different scientific studies and found that needle sharing
is associated with the transmission of hepatitis C (relative risk of 1.97).
et al. (2007) found that, in general, the number of syringes distributed should
cover at least 100% of the needs; less coverage increases paraphernalia sharing
and therefore the risk of contamination.
Other infections and overall risks associated
with needle and syringe reuse.
The reuse of unclean syringe can also induce bacterial infections with sometime
serious health consequences (abscesses, endocarditis, septicaemia ...). Most of
these bacteria come from the skin or saliva of PWID themselves. Fungal
infections can also be transmitted when a person licks the needle before
injection (Gambotti et al., 2006).
syringes or needles are reused, the needle becomes blunt (figure 1) and can
damage the skin and veins, which increases the risk of infections (Kaushik et
From the left to the right:
a new syringe and a syringe that has been used 6 times
even with the proper equipment and impeccable consumption hygiene, injection is
never without risks. In addition to the damage that can be caused by the drugs,
tablet fillers or cuttings, injection often leads to a deterioration of the
venous condition. Many PWID encounter difficulties injecting, bruises or thrombosis
(Cadet Taïrou et al., 2008; Salmon et al., 2009).
reduce the risk of transmission or contamination, each injection should be made
with a sterile syringe. Sterile syringes should be provided in the quantities requested
by clients, without limitation.
the number of syringes distributed should cover more than 100% of needs
(syringes may be lost or confiscated and some PWID need more than one syringe
to find a vein).
not force people to return used needles, but encourage them to do so.
for cleaning syringes can reduce the amount of pathogens and viruses, but are
unable to completely eliminate them.
needles and syringes in the sizes that meet the needs of clients to avoid losing
contact with them, but continue to inform them about the differences and the
participants to use low dead space syringes.
needle exchange services in places where they are needed and with opening hours
that are adapted to the drug using context.
general harm reduction information and services (social, legal, and health
besides needles and syringes, other paraphernalia, such as sterile cookers,
filters, acid, water for injection, alcohol swabs, condoms, etc..
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