The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Resource
Follow Us Follow Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter Download Our App 
Professionals >> Visit The Body PROThe Body en Espanol
  • Email Email
  • Comments Comments
  •  (1)
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary

Cleaning Works

March 2012

 1  |  2  |  3  |  Next > 

Table of Contents

Sharing Needles and HIV Infection

Injection drug use (IDU) accounts for a large number of HIV infections. Sharing needles, syringes, and drug injection equipment or "works" (including cookers and cotton) allows HIV to be spread from one person to another.

Blood from a person living with HIV (HIV+) can remain in or on a needle or syringe and then be transferred directly to the next person who uses it. HIV-infected blood can also find its way into drug solutions through:

  • Using blood-contaminated syringes to prepare drugs
  • Reusing water
  • Reusing bottle caps, spoons, or other containers ("cookers") used to dissolve drugs in water and to heat drug solutions
  • Reusing small pieces of cotton or cigarette filters ("cottons") to filter out particles that could block the needle

Injection drugs users can reduce the risk of HIV infection in the following ways:

  • Using drug treatment programs to get help with quitting
  • Using a new, sterile needle and syringe every time and not sharing needles, syringes, cookers, or cotton with others
  • Using needle exchange programs to get new unused needles and syringes, etc.
  • If new, unused needles and syringes are not available, cleaning the ones that have been used thoroughly before using them again with another person.

Drug Treatment Programs


Stopping injection drug use altogether is probably the best thing you can do for your health. This may be an incredibly hard thing to do and it may not work for everyone. However, it will get rid of all the risk of HIV infection that comes from sharing contaminated needles, syringes, cookers, and cottons.

Drug treatment programs are available throughout the country to assist you in stopping injection drug use. Some programs have waiting lists and women with children may need to make special arrangements. To find out if this a good option for you, look for a substance use treatment program in your area. See the resource section of this info sheet for help in finding a program.

New Needles

If you do inject drugs, it is best to use a new, sterile needle and syringe every time you inject and not share needles and syringes with others. You might not think of yourself as having "shared" a needle and syringe if you shared it with a close friend or acquaintance. But sharing needles and syringes with friends can be as dangerous as sharing with strangers.

"Street sellers" of needles and syringes may repackage used needles and syringes and sell them as sterile when they are not. Do not assume a needle and syringe are new, even if they seem to be packaged as new.

Obtain needles and syringes from reliable sources of sterile needles and syringes, such as pharmacies. In many parts of the US you can purchase sterile needles and syringes without a prescription from a local pharmacy.

Needle Exchange Programs

If you cannot buy new needles and syringes from a pharmacy, look for a needle exchange program (also called a syringe exchange program). Needle exchange programs can give new syringes and needles to injection drug users without a prescription in order to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases.

Although scientific evidence shows that needle exchange programs do not increase drug use and do reduce the spread of HIV, some people oppose them. There are needle exchange programs in many parts of the country, but they are not available everywhere.

Needle exchange programs offer a good way for injection drug users to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. In addition, these programs may be able to help you get benefits, medical care, and access to drug treatment programs. To find a needle exchange program, see the list in the resource section of this info sheet.

 1  |  2  |  3  |  Next > 

  • Email Email
  • Comments Comments
  •  (1)
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary

This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Using Safely/Dealing With Addiction


Add Your Comment:
(Please note: Your name and comment will be public, and may even show up in
Internet search results. Be careful when providing personal information! Before
adding your comment, please read's Comment Policy.)

Your Name:

Your Location:

(ex: San Francisco, CA)

Your Comment:

Characters remaining: