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People who inject drugs (PWID) refers to the behaviour of individuals at risk of acquiring HIV and other blood-borne infections due to unsafe injection practices, such as re-using previously using used needles or syringes.

Why are people who inject drugs (PWID) often at higher risk of HIV?

Needle sharing is the main factor for this as if a needle has been used by person living with HIV, infected blood in the needle or syringe can be injected into the next person who uses that same needle/syringe. Sterile needles and syringes are not always accessible and there is often a lack of education around safe injection practices. People who are under the influence of substances also tend to have poorer judgement when it comes to sex. Many people who inject drugs who have unsafe sex in some settings do so under the influence.

What are the risks of injecting drugs?

Injecting drugs has the following risks:

  • Potential overdose (can be fatal)
  • Blood-borne infections, such as Hepatitis B, C and HIV, if needles/syringes are shared
  • Damage to veins and skin infections at injecting point

Do people who use drugs have to use it all the time?

No. Drug use is a complex phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviours, from chronic dependence to complete abstinence. Some people use drugs daily, or some use it occasionally. Drug use does not necessarily have to be problematic for a person’s functioning in society.

Are people who use drugs bad?

No. People use drugs for various reasons and there are many risk factors outside of an individuals’ control that makes them more susceptible to becoming addicted. Genetics, poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past traumas, sex-based discrimination, and stress explain why some people are more likely to use drugs than others.

As with any other health issue, people who use drugs require the right medical care, support, and resources to overcome their addiction.

Why can some people who use drugs not quit?

People can have various motivations for using drugs. Drugs can be used as an escape from daily problems, for enjoyment, to experiment, or to fit in. It can be very easy to become addicted to some illicit substances, making it difficult for people to exert self-control and quit.

There are also the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past-trauma, sex-based discrimination, and other social inequalities that affect people’s capacity for effectively dealing with drug use.

Without knowledge about or access to rehabilitative support and resources, people who use drugs may not have the knowledge, support, and motivation to quit. Therefore, it is important to provide harm reduction interventions as part of a comprehensive response to drug use.