Advice if you inject drugs

Injecting means administering drugs using a needle and syringe into a vein (intravenous), into a muscle (intramuscular), or under the skin (subcutaneous).

Risks of injecting drugs

Injecting drugs, like heroin and cocaine, increases risk of:

  • injuries
  • wounds
  • bacterial and viral infections
  • overdose

Injecting equipment

When using injecting equipment, the following steps may help you stay safer:


  • use new, sterile supplies
  • dispose of equipment responsibly – it can be returned to an injecting equipment provider (IEP)
  • only use your own equipment
  • get tested regularly for blood-borne viruses (BBVs) – sharing equipment including needles, filters, containers, spoons and water can spread infections and BBVs like hepatitis C and HIV

Sterile supplies of injecting equipment are available from IEPs or can be bought online.

If you can’t get new equipment, as a last resort, make sure existing injecting equipment is cleaned using the three-container method.

Information on the three-container method and how to clean injecting equipment can be found in the Scottish Drug Forum’s leaflet: Do you Inject Drugs?.

The Scottish Drug Forum’s video on cleaning injecting equipment may also be helpful.

Harm reduction

To reduce the risk of harm when injecting drugs, try the following advice:

  • clean any drug packaging with alcohol wipes
  • always prepare drugs on a surface that has been cleaned using anti-bacterial spray or alcohol wipes
  • use a temporary surface like kitchen roll or a clean magazine and dispose of it afterwards
  • wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before preparing or taking drugs
  • wash injecting sites with soap and water before and after injecting – use swabs before injecting only
  • use a sterile filter once the drug is dissolved in sterile water to remove some substances that can cause harm if injected
  • use a new needle each time – needles become blunt after one use
  • keep the needle sterile – avoid licking the needle as this can transfer bacteria from the mouth into the skin and cause infections
  • rotate injection sites – try to avoid injecting in high-risk areas such as the neck and groin

Infected wounds

There are many signs of an infection, including a wound that is:

  • hot, red or swollen
  • wetter than before
  • more painful
  • more yellow, green or black
  • bigger/deeper
  • has a bad smell

If you think your wound is getting worse, draw a circle around it and watch it closely.

Phone your GP or 111 if:

  • your wound is getting bigger
  • your wound is not getting any better
  • you feel unwell

In an emergency call 999 or visit A&E.

Caring for wounds

You can get dressings free at your local pharmacy under minor ailments. If it’s possible, stock up from your local pharmacy or at healthcare appointments.

To care for your wound:

  • always try to cover it using a simple clean dressing such as meopore or premierpore
  • try to leave it covered for at least 7 days
  • change your dressing every 7 days
  • change your dressing if it leaks, has become dirty or has fallen off

Further information on preventing bacterial infections and wound hygiene is available from the Scottish Drugs Forum.

Always carry naloxone

The risk of overdose is higher if injecting drugs. Always carry naloxone.

Naloxone is a medicine that can temporarily reverse the effect of an opioid overdose.

Further information on overdose and naloxone.

Last updated:
10 May 2024