Reducing the Risk: How to Inject More Safely

Before I even begin, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I am not in any way, shape or form endorsing the use of drugs. I’m not offering these tips to encourage people to use drugs. I am offering these tips to encourage people to inject more safely. This cuts to the real heart of the drug issue. There are people out there who either don’t want to quit or who want to quit but haven’t been able to do so yet. Ignoring the truth doesn’t make it go away and in many ways, only makes the problem worse. People need to know how to inject more safely. This information may save lives and it may slow the spread of disease. That’s why I’m sharing these safer injection tips. If you have a loved one who is abusing drugs, you may want to share this information with them as well. You won’t be telling them you are okay with them abusing drugs. You’ll be telling them you love them and want them to stay alive until they decide they are ready to get clean. Okay, let’s talk safer injections.

Keep Everything Clean

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From the supplies you use to the surface you start out with, you’re going to want to make sure everything is as clean as it can possibly be. Start off using a clean surface. If you’re shooting up in a bathroom stall or even in the street, you can have a cleaner surface by using a newspaper or magazine that looks to be fairly new. While you’re probably not going to be able to find a brand new paper or magazine just lying around the street, you should have better luck looking around the dumpsters behind supermarkets, convenience stores or anywhere else that sells newspapers and magazines. They often toss out old stock and replace it with new issues. If you’re worried that you won’t be able to find more the following day, grab a few issues and store them somewhere safe. They’ll still be good as long as they’re kept dry. Try storing them in a plastic bag. When you’re ready to use them, open them up to the middle to avoid dirt or grime that has accumulated on the cover or front pages.

While you should always try to avoid using the same needle, for most users, a new needle for every shot just isn’t an option. If you’re going to be reusing a needle, make sure you clean it before you inject, even if you’re the only person that has used it. Blood can build up in the needle and you want to make sure you’re not injecting that back into your vein. All manner of bad things could happen as a result. I’ll walk you through cleaning your needle in a moment, but before I get to that, I want to point out it’s also important to make sure everything you use has been cleaned before you use it. This includes the spoon and the water you use to cook your dope. If you’re using in a bathroom, use water from the tap if possible. If not, the water in the tank of the toilet is cleaner than the water in the toilet bowl, but it’s best to avoid toilet water altogether if at all possible. If you’re not sure your water is clean, boil it in your spoon. It takes a little while longer, of course, but you’ll be significantly reducing the chances of infection.

Your skin doesn’t avoid the keep it clean checklist. After you’ve found your injection point, you’re going to want to make sure the skin is clean. You can clean your skin the same way a nurse would clean your skin to give you a shot in the hospital. Take a cotton ball (or toilet paper) and soak it in alcohol. Swipe it across the injection point once or twice but always in the same direction (starting above the injection point and swiping downward, starting below the injection point and swiping upward or staring to the left of the injection point and swiping toward the right). You don’t want to wipe the point back and forth because you’ll actually be pulling dirt and bacteria back toward the injection point. One or two swipes going in the same direction will get the skin clean and ready for injection.

Proper Needle Care

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We talked about the importance of cleaning your needle before using it if you’re not able to use a new needle for each dose. Follow this step by step guide to ensure you’re cleaning your needle properly. It does take a little time but it’s worth it.

Step One: Prepare clean water. Either use water from the tap, water from a bottle or boiled but cooled water.

Step Two: Draw clean water all the way up into the needle and give the needle a good shake. You’re going to do this to break up any blood that has collected in the needle.

Step Three: Discard the water in the needle. Make sure you dump the water away from where you plan to inject. You can dump the water in the toilet or down a sink drain. Just make sure you flush the toilet or rinse out the sink afterwards. The water you’ve drawn into the syringe will be absolutely loaded with bacteria you don’t want to come into contact with. You also want to make sure no one else is going to come into contact with it as well.

Step Four: Draw bleach into the needle, shake for thirty seconds and then dump the bleach. You’re not going to want to dilute the bleach at all for this step. It smells foul but bleach will kill anything harmful hiding in your needle. You’re going to repeat this step three times. The repetition may feel unnecessary, especially if it’s been a while since your last dose, but you really want to make sure you kill anything living in that needle.

Step Five: Because you don’t want to inject bleach into your vein, you’re now going to draw more clean water into the needle, shake for thirty seconds and discard the water. Once again, you’re going to repeat this step three times as well. You want to avoid injecting bleach just as much as you want to avoid injecting bacteria.

It’s so important to point out that even with a clean needle, reusing needles is still risky. Every time you inject with a needle, the tip becomes duller. Pricking a vein with a needle obviously damages the vein, but the duller the tip, the more damage done. You want to do as little damage to your veins as possible. We’re going to talk a little bit more about that in a moment but for now, I want to mention a few options for new needles that may be available to you.

Depending on your city, state or province, safe injection sites may be an option for you. More and more of these sites are popping up around the world and they’re a valuable resource for drug users. Safe injection sites allow you access to new needles and a safe, clean environment for you to shoot up in. Most safe injection sites have a very strict ‘no judgment’ policy as well but they also offer access to information on how you can get help if you decide you want to get clean. If you want to take advantage of that information, it’s there for you. If not, it isn’t shoved down your throat. The focus is on helping users reduce the risks associated with their habit and slow the spread of disease among users and among the general public. Information on other types of assistance may be available as well.

If there is no safe injection site in your state or city, you may be able to buy new syringes at your local pharmacy. This is not allowed in all states though. In other areas, needle exchange programs are available to help you safely dispose of your old needles but also gain access to new ones. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of these programs. You’re helping others by ensuring your old needles are disposed of hygienically but you’re also helping yourself by using a new needle each time you inject.

Caring For Your Veins

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We’ve already touched on how important it is to do as little damage to your veins as possible but now it’s time to elaborate on that a little bit. Let’s start by talking about how to choose the best injection points. The following spots are generally considered viable injection points:


  • The arms (above the wrist but below the collar bone area)
  • The hips

That narrows it down quite a bit, doesn’t it? Let’s make sure we’re clear though. The following spots are not viable injection points:

  • Eyes (obviously)
  • Forehead
  • Tongue
  • Genitals
  • Back of the hands
  • Wrists
  • Neck
  • Groin
  • Legs
  • Arteries

Some of these are obvious. Some aren’t nearly as obvious. If discretion is an issue, you may be tempted to shoot up in the legs but don’t. Stick with the hips or arms. You can always wear a long sleeved shirt. Shooting up in the legs is extremely dangerous. Circulation is slower in the legs and the walls of the veins are very thin. While discretion may be important, it’s far more important to choose a location that poses less of a threat to your health.

Avoiding arteries is also important when you’re choosing your injection point but many users don’t know how to identify arteries. Hitting an artery is messy, dangerous and could require a trip to the doctor, so it’s best to learn how to spot an artery so you can avoid it. Luckily, spotting an artery is pretty easy once you know what you’re looking for. Feel the spot for a pulse. If there is one, it’s an artery. If you do happen to hit an artery, the blood will be dark and have a sort of frothy look to it. It’s also going to force the plunger up on the needle. Pull the needle out and elevate the wound above your heart. Apply pressure to the wound until the bleeding stops. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, you’ll need to get to a hospital as soon as possible.

One of the biggest mistakes users make when shooting up is using the same vein for every dose. You need to rotate your injection points. In other words, use one vein for one dose and another vein for the next dose. Shooting into the same vein every time wreaks havoc on that vein and may cause the vein to collapse. It’s also incredibly important to be careful of the order in which you rotate. You’re going to want to start in the injection point furthest from the heart. Each additional shot should move closer to the heart. If you aren’t careful about the order of your shots, you could loosen a clot or a scab from a previous injection. The consequences could literally be fatal. If a clot moves to your heart or your lungs, you could die.

You also need to be careful with the angle of your injection. When you inject, you should do so at a forty-five degree angle. Make sure the hole in the tip of the needle is pointing up. This makes it easier for the needle to pierce the vein but also reduces the risk of the tip passing right through the tip of the vein. Using the proper angle also reduced the tearing the needle will cause in the vein. The thickness of the vein you want to use is something else you need to take into consideration. Thin veins may roll which will make it harder to get your shot. You can use thinner veins but you need to do what you can to prevent rolling. Lay your arm on a flat surface and apply a little pressure. This could prevent rolling or at least make it easier to deal with.

Other Considerations

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Tying off is important but you need to make sure you do it right. You’re going to want to use something that is at least one inch thick and you’re going to want to apply the tie roughly four inches above the point of injection. Make sure you loosen the tie before you take the dose though. Tying off causes the vein to swell allowing you to find a viable vein more easily but it can also cause too much pressure and could contribute to a blown vein. Tie off, wait for the vein to swell and then loosen the tie. You’re also going to want to be careful when you push the plunger. Slamming is appealing because it’s faster and some say, the high is better (not true, for the record), but it also greatly increases the risk of overdose, blown veins and a lot of other issues. Push the plunger down slowly. It’s safer and offers the same high slamming does.

By now, most users know sharing needles isn’t safe, but it goes further than that. Cookers, ties, sets, points and water are all off limits for sharing. All of these things can house diseases that can be transmitted from one user to another. Although it can be difficult to avoid sharing your works, it is absolutely necessary if you want to reduce your chances of contracting diseases.  Even so, avoiding shooting up alone is important as well. No matter how careful you are, a lot could go wrong. If someone is there with you, they may be able to get help for you before it’s too late. In addition, several states now offer overdose reversal kits. You may be able to get one of these kits and keep it close when you shoot up. These kits aren’t guaranteed to work each and every time but they can greatly increase your chances of survival.

Choosing a location to shoot up is difficult. You need to choose a place that is secluded so someone won’t find you out as you’re getting ready to shoot up, but you also need a place that allows someone to easily find you if you overdose. Decide for yourself what is most important. An ideal place is somewhere that often has a lot of foot traffic but at a time when few people are likely to stubble upon you while you’re cooking your dose. Ideally, you should be with at least one other person when you shoot up. This person should be someone you trust so you can be sure they’ll get help if something goes wrong.

Of course discretion is important when you’re looking for a place to shoot up but that doesn’t mean you can’t be safe. Tell anyone that happens to be with you but may not know you’re using that you’re not feeling well. You can blame the flu or bad food. Ask them to come in and check on you if you’re not back out within a reasonable amount of time. If something does go wrong, you’ll know help won’t be far away.

If you’re retoxing – using again after being clean for an extended period of time – you need to be especially careful not to overdose. Before getting clean, you’d probably been gradually increasing your doses to chase your high. You need to increase doses because your body builds a tolerance to your drug. When you get clean, that tolerance is significantly reduced. This basically means that your body isn’t able to handle as much dope as it was able to handle before you got clean. If you take the same dose you took before, there is a better than average chance you’ll overdose.

Being careful with your dope is especially important if you’re trying out new stuff for the first time. If the dope is purer than your last bag, you could overdose if you use the same amount. The new stuff may also be cut with something dangerous including other drugs, rat poison or a whole host of other things. If you’re trying new stuff, limit how much you do. Try out half the bag or an even smaller test shot. This will give you an idea of what you’ve got and if it’s good stuff, you can always do more later on.

Okay, let’s end this with a reality check. Nothing you can do and no amount of caution can make shooting dope safe. It’s dangerous stuff. That’s just a simple, unavoidable fact. Reducing the chances is just that – reducing the chances. These tips can help you stay safer but remember, the minute you decide that you’re ready to get clean, there is help out there for you. Getting clean is scary, it’s depressing and it’s probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It’s also one hundred percent worth the effort. You don’t need to go through it alone either. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. Asking for help makes you smart and proves you are dedicated to making a change. If you want to continue using though, please listen to the advice in this article and please stay safe.

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