Cleaning shared needles?

Originally Published: September 1, 1993 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 1, 2010
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Alice—

Recently my boyfriend began injecting cocaine. I've noticed that he and his friends share their needles, but "clean" them first with bleach and water. Is this a valid way to avoid contamination?

Signed
—Worried and Wondering

Dear Worried and Wondering,

Your boyfriend is fortunate to have someone who cares about his health and safety. Still, his health and safety affects your health and safety as well. Sharing needles/syringes raises the risk of transmission of any blood-borne disease, such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C, not only for the drug user, but for the user's sexual partner(s). While a study published in 1999 suggested that small amounts of bleach could possibly increase infectivity of HIV, a 2004 study found that rinsing needles first with water and then using bleach worked to disinfect the needles. Still, the safesst way of avoiding a blood-borne infection from injection drug use is to use new, sterile needles/syringes each time.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene runs a free, confidential needle exchange program where people can exchange used needles for clean ones. For more information, call 311 and inquire about the needle exchange program, or visit the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center website for a list of NYC needle exchange locations. Call ahead, as the locations or times may change.

You mention that your boyfriend began injecting cocaine recently. Are you concerned about his drug use or just the possibility of contamination? If it is the drug use that concerns you, you may want to consider discussing this issue with your boyfriend and whether seeking help may be an option for him. You may also want to think about and express your own concerns about this issue. After all, his injection drug use has implications for your own physical and emotional health. How does this change, or not change, your relationship with your boyfriend? If you are sexually active, it may be a good idea to have a chat with your boyfriend about using condoms, if you do not do so already.

If your boyfriend is a student at Columbia, he can make an appointment to see a health care provider by either calling x4-2284 or by logging in to Open Communicator. He can also see any provider from Counseling and Psychological Services by calling x4-2878 to make an appointment. Counseling and Psychological Services also provides couples counseling if you decide to attend sessions with your boyfriend. If you or your boyfriend are worried about blood-borne infections, the NYC Department of Health runs free and confidential STD testing clinics located throughout the five boroughs. 

Although you may feel that you are in a tough situation, you've already taken a significant step by trying to learn more information about needle-sharing and cleaning, and helping your boyfriend (and yourself) stay safe.

Alice