Research has shown that safer ‘low dead space’ injecting equipment can help prevent the spread of blood borne viruses among people who inject drugs. New materials, co-designed with service users from Bristol Drugs Project, are being launched to promote the use of this safer equipment, write Dr Jo Kesten and Zoe Trinder-Widdess of NIHR CLAHRC West, Bristol.

Detachable low dead space injecting equipment has been around for a few years now, but not all needle and syringe programmes offer it. We’ve been working with service users from Bristol Drugs Project to develop materials, including posters, a booklet and an animation, that will promote the benefits of this safer equipment, among people who inject drugs, the needle and syringe programmes that support them and commissioners.

Low dead space equipment has less space between the needle and the plunger after injecting. Blood and drug remain in this space, so if equipment is shared the risk of spreading blood borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis C is higher when there’s more space for blood to be left in the equipment.

The materials build on research by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care West (CLAHRC West) and the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol. Their research found that people who inject drugs would be willing to switch to this safer equipment, if the benefits of less wasted drugs and lower risk of passing infections were explained and they were introduced gradually. The research also informed some of the messages in the materials.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Deborah Hussey, Assertive Engagement Worker from Bristol Drugs Project, joined the CLAHRC West team as Knowledge Mobilisation Fellow for the project. She visited needle and syringe programmes around the UK, from Glasgow to London, to understand barriers to the uptake of detachable low dead space equipment, and how different programmes operate and share harm reduction messages.

We then worked with Michael Linnell of Linnell Communications, a designer who specialises in information product design for drugs, alcohol and public health campaigns.

Through a series of workshops, the materials were co-designed by service users from Bristol Drugs Project who shaped the messages, language and look and feel of the materials. The final products are available to download from Exchange Supplies’ website. Exchange Supplies is a social enterprise that has pioneered the use of detachable low dead space equipment among people who inject drugs.

The project was overseen by a steering group that included Bristol Drugs Project, Exchange Supplies, Public Health England, the Bristol Health Partners Drug and Alcohol Health Integration Team (HIT), CLAHRC West and HPRU in Evaluation of Interventions.