New injectors and the social context of injection initiation

Alex Harocopos, Lloyd A. Goldsamt, Paul Kobrak, John J. Jost, Michael C. Clatts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Preventing the onset of injecting drug use is an important public health objective yet there is little understanding of the process that leads to injection initiation. This paper draws extensively on narrative data to describe how injection initiation is influenced by social environment. We examine how watching other people inject can habitualise non-injectors to administering drugs with a needle and consider the process by which the stigma of injecting is replaced with curiosity. Method: In-depth interviews (n = 54) were conducted as part of a 2-year longitudinal study examining the behaviours of new injecting drug users. Results: Among our sample, injection initiation was the result of a dynamic process during which administering drugs with a needle became acceptable or even appealing. Most often, this occurred as a result of spending time with current injectors in a social context and the majority of this study's participants were given their first shot by a friend or sexual partner. Initiates could be tenacious in their efforts to acquire an injection trainer and findings suggest that once injecting had been introduced to a drug-using network, it was likely to spread throughout the group. Conclusion: Injection initiation should be viewed as a communicable process. New injectors are unlikely to have experienced the negative effects of injecting and may facilitate the initiation of their drug-using friends. Prevention messages should therefore aim to find innovative ways of targeting beginning injectors and present a realistic appraisal of the long-term consequences of injecting. Interventionists should also work with current injectors to develop strategies to refuse requests from non-injectors for their help to initiate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-323
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • Initiation
  • Injecting drug use
  • Narratives
  • Social setting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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