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Injecting Drugs ?

What is injecting drugs and sharing needles/syringes?

A white man sitting at a table covered in drug paraphanalia including a syringe and cocaine in liquid form getting ready to shoot up

Injection drug use is using needles to inject drugs into a vein or under the skin (i.e., skin popping, muscling).

What we know about injecting drugs:

In 2013, 7% of HIV diagnoses in the United States were from injection drug use and 3% were from injection drug use and male-to-male sexual contact. The average chance that an HIV-negative person will get HIV each time that person shares needles to inject drugs with an HIV-positive person is 63 out of 10,000 exposures.

You can learn more information on risk factors for HIV among injection drug users here.

Hepatitis B and C are viruses that infect the liver. Many people with hepatitis B or C don't know they have it because they don't feel sick. Even if you don't feel sick, you can transmit the virus to others. The only way to know for sure if you have hepatitis B or C is to get tested. Your health care provider will recommend a hepatitis B or C test if you have risk factors for these infections, such as injection drug use. If you don't have a health care provider, click here to find contact information for your local health department.

There are medicines to treat hepatitis B. If you've never had hepatitis B, there's a vaccine to prevent it. There are medicines to treat hepatitis C, but they aren't right for everyone. There's no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Talk to your health care provider to learn more about hepatitis B and C.

Another reason people who inject drugs can get or transmit HIV (and other sexually transmitted diseases or STDs) is that when people are high, they're more likely to have risky sex. For example, when you're high, you may forget to use a condom when you have sex or have sex with someone you don't know.

In addition to being at risk for HIV and other STDs, people who inject drugs can get other serious health problems, like skin infections or abscesses. And sometimes, people overdose and get very sick or even die from having too many drugs in their body.

What you can do

A syringe and needle with a biohazard sharps container

Stopping injection and other drug use can lower your chances of getting or transmitting HIV a lot. You may need help to stop or cut down using drugs but many resources are available. Therapy, medicines, and other methods can help you. + Talk with a counselor, doctor, or other health care provider about substance abuse treatment. +

Some treatment programs provide medicines such as methadone or buprenorphine to people on an outpatient basis to help them quit using drugs like heroin, OxyContin, Opana, or Vicodin.

To find a substance abuse treatment center near you, check out the locator tools on SAMHSA.gov or AIDS.gov. Through the AIDS.gov locator, you can also find mental health service providers, HIV testing sites, housing assistance, family planning services, and health centers near you.

If you keep injecting drugs, here are some things you can do to lower your risk for getting or transmitting HIV and other infections:

  • Use only new sterile needles and works each time you inject. Many communities have needle exchange or syringe services programs where you can get new, sterile needles, works, and other supplies (e.g., alcohol pads), as well as health care services. Some pharmacies may also sell needles without a prescription.
  • Use only your own sterile needles. Never share needles or works. +

    Be aware that HIV can survive in a used needle for up to 42 days depending on temperature and other factors.

  • Clean used needles with bleach only when you can't get new ones. Bleaching a used needle may reduce the risk of HIV but doesn't eliminate it. Needle exchange and syringe services programs often give out free bleach kits and can teach you how to use the kit. Here are instructions on bleaching needles.
  • Use sterile water to fix drugs. You can buy sterile water from a store, but if you can't get it, you can use water that has been boiled for 10 minutes or clean tap or bottled water.
  • Clean your skin with a new alcohol swab before you inject.
  • If you inject around other people, be careful not to get someone else's blood on your hands or your needle or works.
  • Dispose of needles safely after one use. Use a sharps container or make sure to keep used needles away from other people. Some communities may have drop boxes where you can dispose of your used needles safely.

Learn about other things you can do to prevent getting or transmitting HIV. +

  • Get tested for HIV. CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care and that people with certain risk factors get tested more often. People with more than one sex partner, people with other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and people who inject drugs are likely to be at high risk and should get tested at least once a year.
  • If you're HIV-positive and taking antiretroviral therapy (ART), take your medicines as directed by your health care provider. If you learn that you have HIV, the most important thing you can do is to take antiretroviral therapy (ART) the right way, every day. ART is recommended for all people with HIV, regardless of how long they've had the virus or how healthy they are. Being on ART and taking it the right way, every day lowers the amount of HIV (viral load) in your body. If your ART is working, you can stay healthy for many years, and greatly reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to someone who's HIV-negative.
  • Consider taking daily medicine to prevent HIV (called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP). If you've injected drugs to get high in the past 6 months and during that time you've either shared needles or works or been in drug treatment, PrEP may be right for you. Talk to your health care provider about PrEP. If you don't have a health care provider, click here to find contact information for your local health department.
  • Don't have sex if you're high. If you do have sex, taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV and using a condom the right way every time you have sex can reduce your risk of getting or transmitting HIV. Learn how to talk to your partner about condoms and safer sex. And here are some tips for learning how to use a condom the right way.