Often viewed as one of the most tell tale signs of a true "junkie", there is no doubt about the stigma that comes with track marks.
Venipuncture. More commonly known as blood work, or the process of drawing blood (generally for laboratory testing) is a commonly performed procedure today. However, it is often an absolute nightmare for many current and former IV drug users. Years of intravenous drug use can take its toll on a patients veins, often making it very difficult for healthcare professionals to easily identify a useable vein and successfully draw blood, especially on the first poke. But what if healthcare professionals were able view realtime digital imaging of a patients vasculature, detailed enough to identify flow, bifurcations and valves in a non-invasive way? A new piece of technology known as "VeinViewer" now makes it possible.
Data from Canadian studies has shown that the percentages of people who inject drugs with a used needle have varied from just under 9%, up to 27%. Unfortunately, needles are far from the only item being reused or shared.
Cookers, filters, sterile water, ascorbic acid and tourniquets are among some of the other popular items that are being used on more than one occasion and/or shared amongst the sexual partners, family and friends of intravenous drug users.
While advocates of harm reduction initiatives have long cited the critical need for the distribution of clean, sterile supplies to intravenous drug users; educating and informing users regarding the dangerous practice of supply sharing, as well as its risks is crucial in order to prevent the further spread of communicable diseases and infection.
When it comes to IV drug use, clean and sterile syringes are an absolute must. While they are usually fairly accessible, there is still the very big problem of syringe reuse amongst intravenous drug users. Whether the needle exchange is closed, its outside pharmacy business hours, or for whatever reason clean syringes aren't accessible; almost every IV drug user has encountered the situation where they are forced to make a very risky decision when it comes to their health. Reuse an old syringe, or wait to do the hit? Unfortunately, many will make the dangerous choice of reuse, and sadly there is certainly no shortage of articles and instructables online claiming effective and safe methods to reuse syringes. Spoiler alert: Reuse of syringes is far from safe, nor is it a good idea. Ever.
What random drug and/or drug supplies did I stumble upon today while out and about?
One of the many improperly discarded syringes recently revealed under the melting snow!
Take a close look. It is frighteningly easy to miss!
Any discarded or improperly disposed needle is a problem. The fact that this particular one is uncapped is an even bigger one. The chances of an accidental prick are greater, as it could be picked up to be disposed by someone who is unaware of how to safely do so, or stepped on by unsuspecting pedestrians, children or animals.
Ohhh the sights and sounds of spring. I missed you ever so dearly. The days get longer, the sun shines, the birds start chirping feverishly at daybreak, and the mounds of snow that have accumulated over the long, dark winter months begins to slowly melt away. As the white transforms into patches of green, the discarded mess of winter is left to reveal its dirty self. Around my area, it tends to be mostly random garbage, along with piles upon piles of endless dog shit. I mean the stuff is literally everywhere. You can barely take 5 steps without encountering a new mound of months old dog shit. Fecal matter aside, there's something else that's been showing up underneath the melting snow with an increasingly alarming frequency. The discarded remnants of the supplies from IV drug use.
If you don't know what you're looking for, you might never notice that some of the seemingly innocent pieces of garbage showing up beneath the melting snow are tied to the dark world of addiction and IV drug use. Not many people would recognize the tiny plastic single-use sterile water vials, plastic pieces off disposable cookers, or the packaging they come in after they've spent the winter season buried underneath feet of snow. But these past couple of years it has been more than just obscure remnants scattered here and there around town. Even those completely unfamiliar with drug use can clearly identify a single-use needle discarded in the snow bank, and that has become an all too common sight here.
Frighteningly, this problem is all over the city. It's not something confined to known drug areas as you might suspect - it is absolutely everywhere. As the weather warms, discarded needles, cookers, tourniquets, water vials and the like are being revealed in all corners of the city. Aside from the obvious eyesore, this can be a very dangerous situation, and one that I'm willing to bet is not unique to my hometown. While the general consensus is that accidental needle stick injuries pose a relatively low risk of infection, the risk is there nonetheless. I'm sure you've all come across a story in the media at some point or another about the nightmare situation of a young child coming across or being poked by, an uncapped dirty needle found discarded while the child was out playing.
This makes the increasing incidence of improperly disposed sharps a very real issue facing many communities as the incidence of IV drug use continues to increase in popularity. Ten years ago, at least in my area, needle use was relatively uncommon and stigmatized. Fast forward to today however, and it's made its way much further into the mainstream, gaining popularity at an alarming rate. Once relegated to a small group of hard users, needle use has become a much more openly accepted route of administration for a number of different illicit drugs, and the problem of improperly disposed sharps is increasing along side it.
It is certainly not an easy problem to fix, but the answer lies in the important initiative of Harm Reduction. Harm Reduction is a set of principles, policies and initiatives designed to reduce and curb the often harmful effects and consequences associated with drug use and sex work. Common initiatives often consist of needles exchanges, free communicable diseases testing, and access to health and drug treatment services. Needle Exchange Centres provide free clean single-use syringes, along side needle disposal containers or sharps bins to be used by the addict. Once the bin is full, it can then be returned to the needle exchange upon the next visit for proper disposal of bio hazardous materials. Some exchanges will even offer to deliver and pickup sharps containers from users to help ensure proper disposal. Of course this also requires cooperation from the addict, which some exchanges try to ensure by requiring the return of any sharps taken from the exchange. Although this is not an overly common practice, as it can in some cases discourage addicts to return for more safe and clean supplies if they are unable to return the previously used ones. Others have recently suggested offering money in exchange for return & safe disposal of used sharps, similar to what The Beer Store does when it offers 10¢ for each can/bottle upon its return to the store. In my opinion, I believe that method would be highly successful, but does have the possibility of being abused.
No one wants to live in a community scattered full of dirty needles and used discarded drug supplies, not even addicts. Trust me. Implementing harm reduction policies and increasing awareness is the best way to combat this growing issue facing many cities. While community initiatives and clean ups are great ways to help create a safer space, in order to get at the heart of the issue, we need to increase awareness, implement harm reduction programs and stop stigmatizing the problems associated addiction. That way when the snow melts next spring, we can all join forces and focus on the dog shit.
By K. Lanktree
- Freelance Writer -
- Blog Mistress -
- Former IV Drug User -
- Methadone Patient -
- Lover of all things Harm Reduction -
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