Positive messaging about safer injecting better for engaging PWID

09 December 2014
An HIV ribbon

Delivering positive messaging about safer injecting practices could have a greater impact on engaging people who use drugs in harm reduction programmes. Qualitative research presented at the HIT HOT Topics Conference in Liverpool last week showed that people who used drugs were often aware of safer injecting practices, however their desire for a quick and pleasurable ‘hit’ often outweighed their concern for transmission of blood-borne viruses, such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

Current research into harm reduction focuses primarily on a lack of knowledge or awareness on the part of the drug user. With this in mind, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine interviewed thirty-five people who injected drugs in London, the large majority of whom had avoided HIV and Hepatitis C infection. They aimed to identify how these people had avoided infection in order to help formulate messaging about safer injecting practices.

The researchers noted that those who practiced safer injecting were more motivated by the pleasure gains of safe injecting, rather than the health gains. Reasons given for safer practices included the fact that blunt needles were too painful and harder to use. They were also concerned that used needles could damage their veins, thus making it harder to inject in the future. Used works also had a higher probability of leaving scars, meaning they may be identified as someone who used drugs. Many of the respondents also preferred to use drugs at home and mix their own drugs, so that they could have a better high. These practices all contribute to safer injecting practice, but are driven by pleasure – not health.

Current approaches in harm reduction messaging tend to concentrate on negative messaging, such as information regarding risk and what people who use drugs should not be doing. The researcher’s state that in order to better engage people who use drugs with safe injecting, they need to appeal to the pleasure positives of safer injecting. Campaigns that encourage fun and pleasure, in a safe way, have worked in the gay community. The researchers suggest that following this model may have a better impact on engaging people who use drugs, with slogans such as ‘Don’t use used works, it hurts’, or ‘New Kit – better hit’ suggested by the researchers.

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