If you're going to inject the drugs you take, there are a few things we think you ought to know:
Why should you bother listening to this?
Well… because we've been helping people to stay on the safer side of injecting for a long time. It may not sound like fun, but it can help you to stay safer, healthier and can even save your life.
Arteries and veins
Arteries — take blood away from the heart, pumping it round your body. The blood in your arteries is bright red because it contains a lot of oxygen. Larger arteries — which supply your major organs – have a pulse.
Never inject into an artery. You could easily bleed to death, or lose a limb. If you hit an artery the plunger on the syringe would be pushed back by the pressure and the blood would be bright red, and frothy.
If you hit an artery immediately pull out the needle, remove any tourniquet and apply pressure for at least 15 minutes until it stops bleeding.
Veins — carry blood back to the heart. The blood is a dark red colour, almost purple. Veins do not have a pulse. Most people find the veins in their arms are the easiest to inject into. There are several ways to raise these veins:
- Allow your arm to relax and drop beside you.
- Clench and relax your fist.
- Gently rub or slap the skin above the vein.
- Wave your arm around like a windmill.
- Use a tourniquet. People use tourniquets to ensure a vein is full of blood. If a tourniquet is too tight the vein will not fill with blood. Use a tourniquet that can be easily released.
- Alternate injecting sites. Using the same vein every time will cause scarring and other damage.
Needles and syringes
There is one golden rule about choosing the right needle and syringe – use the smallest size possible. Larger needles cause more damage. The thickness of the needle is colour-coded:
1. Orange 0.5 mm
2. Blue 0.6 mm
3. Green 0.8 mm
The 1ml ‘all-in-one’ insulin syringes have a fine point. They’re useful for skin popping, and for the small veins of your hands, fingers or feet. An orange needle will cope with surface veins. For deep veins you will need a bigger needle. For injecting into a muscle use a long blue or green needle.
Preparing the injection
- If you want to make sure you’re protecting yourself (and other people) you need to keep everything clean.
- Always use your own spoon.
- Always use your own water.
- Always use your own filters.
- Always dispose of used equipment safely.
If you’re using heroin you’ll need to add a little acid to the hit to dissolve the heroin. Add as little as possible of citric acid or vitamin C powder. Lemon juice or vinegar will do the job, but can cause fungal infections. Even if the solution bubbles in the spoon, it’s not sterile and it could still contain viruses. Make sure there are no bubbles in the syringe. Tap the barrel and push the plunger up until a tiny drop of the liquid appears at the end. Let the mixture cool properly before you inject.
Once you’ve raised a vein, clean the site with soap and water or a pre-injection swab. Dry the site before you inject. Insert the needle in the direction of the blood flow. Blood in the veins flows towards the heart. Don’t ‘fish around’ to find a vein. Repeated stabbing will cause bruising and scarring. Draw back the plunger until you see blood. You’re checking to make sure you’ve hit a vein, not an artery. Release the tourniquet before injecting. If you pass out with the tourniquet on you could lose a limb. Inject the solution slowly and steadily.
After the injection
Withdraw the needle slowly and apply pressure to the site until the bleeding stops. If the bleeding doesn't stop hold the limb up, keep pressure on it and get help. If you’ve hit an artery by mistake you could bleed to death, or lose a limb. ‘Getting help’ might mean calling for an ambulance. Always dispose of the needles, syringes, swabs and filters you have used in a sharps container. Clean your spoon and wash out any cups before you use them again.
Your doctor will be able to treat most of the problems that can be caused by injecting. If an injection site becomes infected and is not treated the problems can become severe, sometimes life threatening. Warning signs include sites that become painful, tender, red, hot or swollen, or you feel generally ill or weak and develop a temperature. If your skin becomes sore, weeps or turns black, the infection won’t heal by itself. You might notice a red track mark that spreads under the skin as the infection spreads. Don’t wait. Go to your doctor. Now.