Knowing how to do drugs the right way can mean the difference between life and death. If you choose to do drugs despite the severe risks of addiction, violence, illness and imprisonment, then you should at least learn how to abuse substances with as little risk to yourself and those around you as possible.
This is known as Harm Reduction, and while it in no way encourages anyone to use drugs, it does reduce the chances that you’ll become injured or die if you choose to continue a life of drug abuse against widespread public education regarding the dangers.
Intravenous Drug Use Safety
America is somewhat behind the times when it comes to IV drug abuse and harm reduction. Safe injection sites do not yet exist in the U.S. (1), although needle exchange programs are available in some areas. But in places where social programs do not exist to support IV drug users, maintaining safety should be an individual user’s number one priority considering the risk of contracting HIV, Hepatitis C and even deadly flesh eating bacteria (2). The following tips should be implemented as part of an IV drug addict’s personal harm reduction program:
- Always Use Clean Needles – multiple uses blunt the tip and lead to trauma from re-insertion which can push dangerous bacteria deep under the skin surface. Shared needles expose users to high risk of disease from other users.
- Keep Injection Sites Clean – wash injection sites and apply antiseptic prior to using any needle. Apply clean dressings to needle wounds and skin injuries and keep them free from dirt and debris. If infection develops seek medical attention immediately.
- Use Clean Syringes – syringes, like needles, can carry bacteria and viruses. Cleaning them by hand with mild soap and hot water is recommended at a minimum if you must reuse them, but ideally every injection should be carried out with a fresh needle and syringe.
If you need new syringes and needles please use the following link to find public exchange programs near you:
- Learn How to Inject Correctly – many addicts do not understand fundamental techniques for safe and effective injection. Learning how to inject safely is a critical part of harm reduction. You can obtain instruction in this regard online simply by searching medical sites or even YouTube for videos of the best methods.
- Use a Clean Mixing Surface – when mixing and cooking down substances use a clean surface that will not release fumes or toxins when flame or heat is applied. Carrying and using the same metal spoon (or other implement) for all injections can lead to the development of bacteria that can then be introduced to the blood during an injection.
Many different types of drugs can be smoked but marijuana, meth, heroin, cocaine and hash are the most popular. Smoking any substance releases dangerous carcinogens and toxins that can cause significant health complications. People who smoke drugs would be wise to follow these harm reduction tips:
- Use Long Stem Equipment – a longer stem allows the smoke to cool before entering the mouth, throat and lungs resulting in less long-term damage from hot smoke and fumes.
- Use a Safe Fuel Source – using the wrong kinds of fuel can result in the inhalation of dangerous fumes in addition to smoke from the drugs in question. A properly functioning butane lighter is the best choice. Avoid Zippo-style lighters, candles and incense, burning bits of paper, or burning anything using gasoline, etc.
- Use Pipe Screens – putting screens in a pipe, bong or other smoking implement helps to prevent hot embers from entering and damaging sensitive mucous membranes and other tissues and reduces the amount of particulates that enter the lungs.
- Smoke in a Well-Ventilated Area – venting smoke and fumes is essential to preventing toxic buildup of these substances in the room – especially if there is more than one person smoking drugs at once. The concept that breathing drug fumes in a tightly closed room will get you “higher” is mostly based on the fact that with reduced oxygen in the room, brain cells are dying; which may be perceived as an additional level of euphoria.
- Drink Lots of Water – smoke of any type dehydrates the skin, mouth, throat and other parts of the body. Staying hydrated is important for people who abuse their body by inhaling large quantities of smoke, regardless of the type of drug in question.
Snorting Drugs (Insufflation)
While just about any drug can be prepared for snorting, the most commonly snorted substances are cocaine, meth and crushed prescription pills. Care should be taken when snorting any type of drug to protect the sinuses, mucous membranes and other sensitive tissues in the mouth, throat and nasal passage:
- Alternate Nostrils – evenly alternating the use of each nostril may help to prevent or prolong the occurrence of injury, infections and permanent damage such as a deviated septum.
- Use Water – people who are experienced in snorting drugs often follow each “line” by sniffing some water up their nose to help disperse the substance deeper into the sinuses where it can be dissolved and flush it from the nasal cavity completely if possible.
- Finely Process Substance – the more finely ground or crushed the drug is, the less likely it will be to cause physical damage such as insufflation-caused abrasions and infections caused by buildup of large drug particles.
- Monitor for Sinus Infections – a sinus infection can quickly spiral out of control, so people who snort any kind of drug should monitor for signs of infection and seek medical assistance should they occur.
- Don’t Attempt to Defeat Anti-Abuse Formulations – pharmaceutical companies have developed prescription medications that prevent the alteration of the drug in order to snort it. Defeating this measure via chemical or manual separation could result in the ingestion of dangerous chemicals or large particulates that could become lodged in the lungs and cause pneumonia and even death in some people.
For both recreational drug abusers and addicts the act of ingesting a substance often takes too long for the typical “instant gratification” many are seeking when they get high. However, others prefer direct consumption as a result of its unique effects, while others must take drugs orally for medical reasons. This method deserves two particular warnings that can help reduce harm in people who consume drugs like marijuana, heroin, LSD, meth and cocaine:
1.) Delayed Effects
In some cases consuming a drug directly can take 45 minutes or longer before the user is noticeably affected. These delayed effects can make a user feel that they didn’t take enough and subsequently take an additional, sometimes higher dose. When the effects of all drugs consumed “kick in,” the result can be a life-threatening overdose. Consequently, a little patience in this regard could mean the difference between life and death.
2.) Longer-Lasting Effects
Some drugs may have longer lasting effects when taken orally – especially if there is a long initial delay. Most notably, prescription drugs are generally manufactured to be released into the system slowly in order to perform their medically-intended tasks. For people accustomed to direct consumption of drugs this might not pose a problem, but to someone who is new to this method or a person who normally uses a different method, the longer effects could be a dangerous surprise.
Harm reduction for drug users extends far beyond the actual ingestion/consumption of illicit substances. Other risks include the act of buying and transferring drugs, which can result in violence and the ever-present risk of arrest and incarceration, which may or may not be a better option for some people in particularly desperate situations. When buying drugs, follow these tips to help minimize the inherent risks:
- Know Your Dealer – dealing with people you don’t know can be dangerous – especially if the amount of drugs and cashed being exchanged is anything more than a few hundred dollars. Knowing your dealer won’t save you from a potentially violent situation should one arise, but it can help ensure that you acquire consistent product which is important for dosing and administration purposes. In the event you’re victimized in some way, knowing your dealer will also ensure that you can alert the proper authorities.
- Use Common Sense – when buying drugs be certain to maintain a low profile. Avoid wearing expensive clothing or jewelry, make note of exits when you enter unfamiliar buildings and try to conduct most transactions in a public place if possible. The risk of intervention by law enforcement is more likely, but the chance that you’ll be the victim of a drug-related robbery – or murder – will decrease in a public place.
- Examine Product Thoroughly Before Using – the best harm reduction practice you can follow when buying drugs is to examine the substance manually and using a specific test kit. Test kits can identify what a particular substance is – and what it is not, which can protect your life in the event a drug is laced or cut with something more dangerous than the drug itself. Kits are available at “head shops” and via some online stores. Manual examination can be greatly aided with a simple magnifying glass.
Using in Moderation
Using in moderation is a counter-intuitive idea for most drug addicts, but some are able to use drugs in a controlled manner even though they are outright addicted. These types of users are referred to as “Highly Functioning Addicts” and they are able to maintain mostly normal lives because of their harm reduction practices such as:
- Dividing Drugs into Reasonable Portions – by dividing and managing drugs in small portions, a user can carefully “plan” their highs and maximize how far their drugs go. Moderation in this way allows even addicts to feed the monkey on their backs while reducing the risk of overdose and illness consistent with out-of-control drug abuse.
- Managing Tolerance – being mindful of tolerance is crucial for drug users who wish to avoid the depravity of uncontrollable addiction. Smart users moderate their drug consumption and back off their dosing schedule in order to let tolerance subside. Otherwise, more and more of the drug will be required to achieve the same effects (3) and eventually this will lead to an emotional, physical and financial breakdown.
- Carrying Only Small Amounts – carrying only small amounts of drugs at any time is a method of forced moderation.
Understanding Mental/Emotional State and Euphoria
A significant amount of mental and emotional damage can occur while using drugs. Some of this can be successfully mitigated by creating a safe environment in which to use substances:
- Restrict Strangers – people that you don’t know can do unexpected things.
- Have Watch/Clock Available – keeping a reference like a clock or watch on hand can help you keep track of reality and ensure that you don’t become so caught up in drug abuse that you neglect your own care and safety. This can also help prevent a mental breakdown in the event of a particularly intense high.
- Windows – being in a room with windows provides a reference point for the time of day and a fast option for fresh air.
Know Where & When to Get Help
If you’re abusing drugs, you already know that you could be risking your health, your liberty and your very life. Therefore, the bottom line in harm reduction is knowing where and when to reach out for help – whether for you or someone you’ve been using drugs with. This means that you should:
- Carry a cell phone for 911 purposes
- Know what detox programs are available near you
- Know how to get to the nearest hospital quickly
- Understand basic first aid and CPR
- Recognize the line between recreational use, dependent use and full-blown addiction
- Confirm Good Samaritan laws in your state
- Know where and how to get tested for STD and IV-transmitted diseases
- Understand what social programs are available for your particular situation
- Carry the contact information of at least one person that should be notified in the event you’re in trouble
Most Americans understand the dangers and risks associated with drugs use, and many people choose to accept those risks and do drugs anyway. While this article is in no way meant to be construed as encouragement or instruction on how to actually use drugs, it is meant to be a guide for how to do drugs safely for those who insist on this illegal activity. Harm reduction isn’t just important for the health and well-being of drug abusers and addicts; it’s also a critical part of keeping our communities as safe and healthy as possible.
Ultimately, addiction is a human problem that cannot be eradicated; instead, it must be treated. Therefore, harm reduction means that people who are compelled to use illicit substances can at least take some amount of responsibility for their own drug abuse and actively lessen the effect it has on themselves and their environments.
- Ackerman, McCarton California Users’ Union Fights for Safe-Injection Site 03/12/12 Accessed 01/25/2013 http://www.thefix.com/content/drug-users-union-safe-injection9802
- Flesh Eating Bacteria Caused by Intravenous Drug Use Safe Drug Detox 01/16/2013 Accessed 01/24/2013 http://safedrugdetox.org/flesh-eating-bacteria-caused-by-intravenous-drug-use/
- Drug Tolerance: The 7 Clinical Types Recovery First, Inc Accessed 01/25/2013 http://recoveryfirst.org/drug-tolerance-the-7-clinical-types.html/