When injecting heroin or other drugs, pathogens can be transmitted very easily. These include HIV and hepatitis viruses that cause severe liver inflammation. Abscesses and vein inflammation can develop as well.
You can protect yourself from infections when using drugs by always only using your own syringe and equipment. Snorting or smoking drugs rather that injecting them generally involves fewer risks.
But snorting also involves a risk of infection. Therefore, you should never share a snorting tube with others.
In general, you should try to ensure the most hygienic conditions possible when using drugs. This reduces the risk of viral, bacterial and fungal infections.
Using your own injection equipment only and using drugs in the most hygienic conditions possible is referred to as safer use
Safer use rules
- Use your own sterile needle and syringe for every fix (injection).
- Always only use your own clean spoon. Many drug facilities offer sterile cookers with a filter called “Stericups”.
- Use filters only once. Unused cigarette filters are recommended.
- Bear in mind: Filters do not provide protection against pathogens!
- Only use sterile water, fresh cold tap water or still mineral water for cooking up.
- Always use your own lighter.
Traces of blood on and in the needle and in the syringe can contain high concentrations of viruses and bacteria, even if the blood is invisible to the naked eye.
You should therefore always only use your own injection equipment. Ideally, you should use a new syringe for every “fix”.
Many cities have facilities where you can get sterile injection equipment for free or for a very low price or exchange old syringes for new ones. Syringe vending machines offer access to sterile equipment round the clock.
If you are ever in a situation where you cannot avoid using injection equipment that has been used by someone else, you should at least boil it out or disinfect it. You can find a corresponding guide in the “Safer Use” brochure.
If this is not possible either, it is recommended that you snort the drug rather than inject it. That way, you can avoid withdrawal symptoms until you have access to clean injection equipment.
Some drugs, especially cocaine and speed, are snorted into the nose using a small tube. Heroin can also be snorted.
Snorting involves fewer risks of infection than injecting.
But bear in mind: Tiny injuries in the nasal mucosa, which can easily be caused by snorting, can allow hepatitis viruses to be transferred to the tube and then passed on to others. Since the drugs can irritate and injure the nasal mucosa, it is particularly susceptible to viruses.
You should therefore always only use your own snorting tube!
You should never use rolled-up bank notes for snorting. They have usually passed through many people’s hands and are often covered in pathogens.
When smoking crack or metamphetamines, high temperatures are generated, which can lead to injuries to the lips and mucous membranes in the mouth. Because of the drug's narcotic effect, such injuries are not noticed until later.
To avoid hepatitis C infections, it is important that you do not share your crack pipe.
Pathogens are not only transmitted via syringes, but can also be transmitted via the other equipment used to shoot up drugs. This includes filters, spoons and lighters. Sharing equipment carries, in particular, a very high risk of hepatitis infection. HIV can also be transmitted via shared equipment.
Warning: the water used to shoot up can also transmit pathogens, as it is an ideal breeding ground for fungi and bacteria.
Some drug users share "gear" by first cooking it up, drawing it up into a syringe and then sharing it out according to the measuring lines on the syringe.
Each user uses their own syringe to take their share out of the first syringe. Nevertheless, this method is risky. If the first syringe or needle, the water or the filter has already been used, viruses, bacteria and fungi could be passed on.
There is only one hygienic way to share out drugs: to divide up the powder first. Then each person can use their own syringe and equipment.