Every needle programme worker and every injector comes across them at some point, a needle that is either blunt or barbed before it’s even used.
But what should you do about it?
Last week MSNBC reported the recall of two million faulty syringes. This happens from time to time. When it does, needle providers are sent recall documents explaining which needles are faulty, how they’re faulty and how to send them back.
What are the risks
Faults are never a good thing in a product, but in the case of injecting equipment faults can cause real damage to people. It may be that the fault is just something that affects the way a plunger moves, but it can often be a fault with the needle itself. The last set of faulty needles I came across had barbed ends for instance. (As I’m sure you know, barbed needles increase the damage done to a vein - causing it to be torn rather than punctured.)
What to do
So you’re an injector about to have a shot and you notice, hopefully before you inject, that the needle is barbed. What should you do?
- dispose of the needle without using it
- check another needle from the batch you’ve picked up from the needle programme, if that one is also faulty use the ‘emergency needles’ that you've hopefully got
- KEEP the packaging from all faulty needles, this has a ‘batch number’ that allows it to be traced back to when/where it was made
- Return the packaging to the needle programme to report the fault
- Check that new equipment you collect has a different batch number and check one before you leave the building
- If they don’t have different batches they should be able to give you an alternative option (eg nevershares instead of a standard 1ml)
What should the staff at the needle programme do?
- They should listen to your concerns
- Take a note of the batch numbers from the packaging
- Record on any records they have for you that you’ve reported this issue
- Fill in an incident report (they should ask your permission to include your name)
- Check other equipment with the same batch number, and if it’s faulty remove it
- Report the fault and batch numbers to the supplier
- If they are on social lists like UKHRA they can also warn other services
If you’re checking the sharpness of a needle you intend to inject with just use your eyes, DON’T check it by running it over your finger or clothing; this just adds bacteria and so increases your risks of getting an abscess.
Always check equipment for broken seals, if the packaging is torn/damaged then the equipment inside it is no longer sterile. You can take extra steps to prevent this happening, think about the way to transport equipment home. Are you someone who puts needles in a bag, or do you tightly bundle them and ram them into a pocket?
Faulty equipment shouldn’t just be ignored, and if it’s more than just a single item it should always be reported and taken seriously. And this doesn’t just mean needles but all equipment.
If it’s faulty report it.
Nigel Brunsdon is the owner of Injecting Advice.com. He's been working in harm reduction since the 1990's, although he's previously a frontline needle programme worker he now spends most of his time developing online resources for drugs workers and users.