One of the questions I’m often asked when delivering training to drugs workers is “What are all the different needles for, and which is the best one to use”. Although in a perfect world there would be a clear answer this is rarely the case as each person and each injecting site is unique, the best answer I normally manage is to give loose guidelines.
Exchange Supplies in an attempt to make things a little clearer have produced a small guide to needles and syringes called “What Works”. The information included in this is incredibly robust, filling 50 pages. The guide starts with the usual advice around injecting being a dangerous activity and trying to convince people to smoke or snort their drug instead.
Each needle type is given two pages with a visual guide showing you needle length and gauge. This also covers the main uses for that needle and suggested alternatives that are colour coded to show the hierarchy of risk.
If you are injecting, the best needle to use is the shortest, thinnest one that will reach the site and enable you to inject without it breaking
For me the most useful pages are the ones explaining needle length, gauge (outer thickness) and bore (inner diameter). We’re also given a simple clear explanation of the risks of high ‘dead space‘ syringes. The guide also has a ‘flip out’ panel with all the needle lengths and gauges on to allow easy comparison.
I really like this guide and think that at the very least every needle programme should have one available, better still every drugs worker, activist and health educator should have them.
However this doesn’t appear to be the target audience. It’s clearly written as a guide to be given to injectors, but because of the high quality of the publication the price of the guide (£2.53 each when ordering 100) in my opinion is likely to be seen as too high for many services to consider this with current budgets the way they are. Although I’d happily recommend those services with good budgets supply them.
Nigel Brunsdon is the owner of Injecting Advice. He’s been working in harm reduction since the 1990’s, previously a frontline needle programme worker he now splits his time between photography and developing online resources for drugs workers and users.