A minority of injecting drug users engage in high risk injecting behaviours when in prison. In the United Kingdom between a quarter and a third of injectors who enter prison inject when in prison, and of these about three-quarters share needles and syringes.
In the present study, 44 drug injectors who had been released from prison for no longer than 6 months were recruited and interviewed in three geographical areas in England. Interviewees were asked to recount their experiences of drug use during their most recent period of imprisonment.
The majority of interviewees were male (38/44), had a mean age of 28 years, with a mean age of 16 years at first drug use, were primarily opiate users (39) and had multiple imprisonments.
All respondents reported drug use when imprisoned and drug injecting was reported by 16 interviewees. Most injected at irregular intervals and at a reduced level, compared with injecting when in the community. Nine reported using needles and syringes that others had previously used.
When considering other injecting equipment, more sharing occurred than was actually reported. Much re-use of equipment was viewed simply as “using old works”. The sharing of “cookers” and “filters”, and drug sharing by “backloading” and “frontloading” were common.
The concept of “sharing” tended to be understood by respondents as related to the use of tools of injection (needles and syringes rather than other equipment); the use of tools in the act of injection (rather than for mixing drugs); proximity (multiple use of needles and syringes in the presence of others); temporality (shorter time elapse between consecutive use of needles and syringes previously used by another) and source (hired rather than borrowed or bought).
We conclude that syringe sharing is an integral part of drug use and drug injecting in prison. Many of those interviewed displayed a restricted understanding of what denotes syringe sharing.
Our data reinforce the need for interventions and initiatives to be developed within prisons to deal with the considerable risk posed by continued injecting drug use.