Injection drug use is a major public health problem in the United States. Cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine are the most commonly injected illicit drugs, whereas opioids are responsible for the majority of overdose fatalities. Although recent emergency department (ED) efforts have focused on expanding capacity for buprenorphine induction for opioid use disorder treatment, the injection of illicit drugs carries specific health risks that require acknowledgment and management, particularly for patients who decline substance use treatment. Harm reduction is a public health approach that aims to reduce the harms associated with a health risk behavior, short of eliminating the behavior itself. Harm-reduction strategies fundamental to emergency medicine include naloxone distribution for opioid overdose. This clinical Review Article examines the specific health complications of injection drug use and reviews the evidence base for 2 interventions effective in reducing morbidity and mortality related to drug injection, irrespective of the specific drug used, that are less well known and infrequently leveraged by emergency medicine clinicians: syringe service programs and supervised injection facilities. In accordance with the recommendations of health authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emergency clinicians can promote the use of harm-reduction programs in the community to reduce viral transmission and other risks of injection drug use by providing patients with information about and referrals to these programs after injection drug use–related ED visits.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Emergency Medicine