“I have such a hard time hitting myself, I thought it’d be easier”: perspectives of hospitalized patients on injecting drugs into vascular access devices

Hannah L. Brooks, Ginetta Salvalaggio, Bernadette Pauly, Kathryn Dong, Tania Bubela, Marliss Taylor, Elaine Hyshka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Hospital patients who use drugs may require prolonged parenteral antimicrobial therapy administered through a vascular access device (VAD). Clinicians’ concerns that patients may inject drugs into these devices are well documented. However, the perspectives of patients on VAD injecting are not well described, hindering the development of informed clinical guidance. This study was conducted to elicit inpatient perspectives on the practice of injecting drugs into VADs and to propose strategies to reduce associated harms. Methods: Researchers conducted a focused ethnography and completed semi-structured interviews with 25 inpatients at a large tertiary hospital in Western Canada that experiences a high rate of drug-related presentations annually. Results: A few participants reported injecting into their VAD at least once, and nearly all had heard of the practice. The primary reason for injecting into a VAD was easier venous access since many participants had experienced significant vein damage from injection drug use. Several participants recognized the risks associated with injecting into VADs, and either refrained from the practice or took steps to maintain their devices while using them to inject drugs. Others were uncertain how the devices functioned and were unaware of potential harms. Conclusions: VADs are important for facilitating completion of parenteral antimicrobial therapy and for other medically necessary care. Prematurely discharging patients who inject into their VAD from hospital, or discontinuing or modifying therapy, results in inequitable access to health care for a structurally vulnerable patient population. Our findings demonstrate a need for healthcare provider education and non-stigmatizing clinical interventions to reduce potential harms associated with VAD injecting. Those interventions could include providing access to specialized pain and withdrawal management, opioid agonist treatment, and harm reduction services, including safer drug use education to reduce or prevent complications from injecting drugs into VADs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number54
JournalHarm Reduction Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Harm reduction
  • Hospitalization
  • Patient-centered care
  • Substance-related disorders
  • Vascular access devices


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