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How Can You Reduce Your Risk of HIV While Injecting Drugs?

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Updated December 30, 2009

Question: How Can You Reduce Your Risk of HIV While Injecting Drugs?
In an ideal world, people using IV drugs would seek counseling and kick their dangerous habit. But this is certainly not a perfect world. Therefore, the risk of HIV transmission while injecting drugs needs to be reduced. How can you reduce your risk of HIV while injecting drugs?
Answer: The CDC recommends that people who inject drugs should be regularly counseled to
  • stop using and injecting drugs
  • enter and complete substance abuse treatment, including relapse prevention.

For injection drug users who cannot or will not stop injecting drugs, the following steps may be taken to reduce personal and public health risks:

  • Never reuse or "share" syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment.
  • Only use syringes obtained from a reliable source (such as pharmacies or needle exchange programs).
  • Use a new, sterile syringe to prepare and inject drugs.
  • If possible, use sterile water to prepare drugs; otherwise, use clean water from a reliable source (such as fresh tap water).
  • Use a new or disinfected container ("cooker") and a new filter ("cotton") to prepare drugs.
  • Clean the injection site prior to injection with a new alcohol swab.
  • Safely dispose of syringes after one use.

Other things to note include:

  • If new, sterile syringes and other drug preparation and injection equipment are not available, then previously used equipment should be boiled in water or disinfected with bleach before reuse.
  • Injection drug users and their sex partners also should take precautions, such as using condoms consistently and correctly, to reduce risks of sexual transmission of HIV.
  • Persons who continue to inject drugs should periodically be tested for HIV.

Source: Adapted from information provided by The Centers of Disease Control.

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