Insight: Injecting drug users’ experience in NSW


Sealed unused syringes

Since 2000, the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of NSW have been interviewing people who inject drugs to capture information on their health, safe injecting practices, drug trends, market prices and perception of availability and purity of illicit drugs.

Each year NDARC conduct these interviews in each capital city in Australia as part of the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) project. The key findings from the 2019 interviews have recently been released and provide a snapshot of the health of people who inject drugs, as well as drug trends across the state.

Key findings for NSW

  • Among the 151 people interviewed, heroin was the most used drug, followed by crystal methamphetamine and cocaine.
  • Awareness about the life-saving drug naloxone had increased by more than 20 per cent from 2018. The number of people participating in trials of the Take Home Naloxone training programs had doubled in NSW, and of those who participated 57 per cent had used naloxone to resuscitate someone who had overdosed.
  • Some of the most risky behaviours leading to harm and health issues were on the decline, with those surveyed reporting less needle sharing. Under one in ten reported using a needle shared with them, and under one in seven reported sharing their needle with someone else.
  • Injection-related health problems are still a concern. Among people who inject drugs; 'dirty hits', nerve damage, skin abscess or cellulitis and blood clots were the most common health issues. Nearly half of all the people surveyed reported having a recent injection-related health issue.

A 'dirty hit' is where contaminates in the drug solution are injected causing bacteria to enter the bloodstream, symptoms can include severe headaches, tremors or muscle spasms, fever, pain, vomiting and sweating. 'Dirty hits' can be avoided by using harm reduction strategies -for detailed advice on safe injecting practices visit NUAA's Safer using webpage.

In NSW, free sterile injecting equipment is available from Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) outlets and from selected pharmacists. Call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015 for the nearest NSP outlet.

Illicit Drug Reporting System

The IDRS is a national illicit drug monitoring system that identifies "emerging trends of local and national concern in illicit drug markets". Through the IDRS NDARC conducts annual interviews and analyses data from various sources on illicit drugs to provide up-to-date bulletins and reports. For more on IDRS visit

For more on the 2019 findings visit NDARC's New South Wales Drug Trends 2019: Key Findings from the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) Interviews.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call Family Drug Support on 1300 368 186 or Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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