Safer Injecting: Heroin, crack and crystal meth

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Reduce your risk of infections, disease and overdose.

You and safer injecting

Injecting is the riskiest way to use drugs. Some of the risks are related to using needles. Other risks are related to the type of drugs that go in the needles. Here are things you can do to reduce those risks.

Before you start...

Know your dealer
It’s best to choose someone you feel safe with and who knows about the drugs they sell.

Find a buddy
Using alone means no one will be there to help you if you overdose.

Find a safe, quiet place
Being relaxed and not in a hurry can make injecting easier and therefore safer.

Clean your hands and the injection site
Use soap and water to wash your hands and wipe the injection site with an alcohol swab. This will help prevent germs from going into your blood.

If you’re crushing and adding water to a drug...

Use a sterile, disposable cooker (spoon) to mix and heat the drug
Avoid re-using and sharing cookers since this can lead to contamination and infection.

Use as small an amount as possible of acidic solution
It’s best to use vitamin C packs. Avoid lemon juice and vinegar because they damage veins.

Use a clean capped needle for mixing and dissolving
Uncapped needle tips can be damaged if used for mixing.

Use sterile water, if possible
Or boil tap water for five minutes and then let it cool.

When injecting...

Plump up the vein with a warm compress
Heat makes it easier to see and use a vein.

Use a tie that you can undo quickly and easily
Use a non-latex tourniquet or tie two condoms together and do not share it. Pump up the vein by opening and closing a fist.

Use a clean filter
Dental cotton is best. Avoid using cigarette filters. Use one filter per needle and don’t share it with others.

Use a new sterile needle each time
Used needles may be dull, making them hard and painful to use. Avoid infection and disease by not sharing needles.

Start with a small amount if you’re not sure how strong it is
This can help reduce your risk of overdose.

Start with veins closest to the wrist and work your way up
This way, if the bottom part of the vein collapses, you can still use the upper part.

Insert needle with bevel (hole) pointing up
This helps with flow and reduces risk of vein damage.

Aim in the direction of blood flow
Go towards the heart.

Flag the needle
Push plunger in a little and then pull back until you see blood in needle. This way you know your needle is in right.

Release tie and inject slowly
This allows easy flow into the body.

Add pressure to injection site
This prevents bleeding and bruising.

Dispose of needle safely
It’s best to put it in a container with a lid.

Signs of overdose

For heroin

Feels like:

  • can’t stay awake
  • no energy or strength
  • can’t walk or talk

Looks like:

  • slow or no pulse
  • slow or no breathing
  • skin is pale and blue and feels cold
  • body is limp and can’t wake up or talk
  • pupils are pinned or eyes are rolled back
  • vomiting
For crack

Feels like:

  • heart is pumping fast
  • short of breath
  • hot, sweaty and shaky
  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • faintness

Looks like:

  • fast or no pulse
  • fast or no breathing
  • hot and sweaty skin
  • confusion, anxiety
  • unconscious
  • vomiting
  • seizures

If someone ODs...

It is important to recognize the early symptoms of an overdose and seek medical assistance.

  • Try to walk the person around, keep them awake

  • Roll the person on their side (if unconscious)

  • Call out for help—do not leave the person

  • Call (or get someone else to call) 911

  • Tell paramedics as much as you can

Safer injecting products

Contact the health unit in your community for information about obtaining needles, filters, sterile water, alcohol swabs, acidifiers and cookers. Visit HealthLink BC for locations,

Getting help

Self-help tools:

Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service:

  • 1-800-663-1441 (BC)
  • 604-660-9382 (Greater Vancouver)