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Infections among people who inject drugs in the UK, 2018

A report issued by Public Health England in December 2019 reported a sharp rise in the rate of bacterial infections among people who inject drugs (PWID). The cause is not clear but there could be a number of factors at play.

  • Sharing and re-use of injecting equipment is common

  • Injection of crack cocaine is on the rise, leading to riskier behaviours

Bacterial infections are by an large preventable. Good injecting technique including the use of clean injecting equipment, the use of alcohol swabs to wipe the skin prior to injection and heating the drug for up to ten seconds prior to injection can help alleviate these painful and potentially life-threatening infections.

However, ideal safe-injecting conditions are generally not always available to the PWID who may find themselves having to inject in rough conditions.

Needle Exchange Services can play a crucial role in helping PWID to avoid infections through the provision of clean injecting equipment and education on safe injecting practice.

Shooting Up: Infections among people who inject drugs in the UK, 2018

While the rates of viral infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C garner a lot of attention in terms of public health among PWID, bacterial infections are also very common and painful and not only reduce the quality of life for the person involved but can also lead to unfavourable outcomes from painful ulcers to MRSA infection, amputations, heart infections (endocarditis) and even death. As we said at the beginning of this piece, all largely avoidable without any major cost.

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