Shared injection experiences: Interpersonal involvement in injection drug practices among women

Kathryn J. Barnhart*, Brian Dodge, M. Aaron Sayegh, Debby Herbenick, Michael Reece

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Many women who inject drugs are aware of the associated risks, however social influences play a part in their behavioral decisions. Incorporation of others in drug use behaviors may be common practice among women who use drugs. The aim of this study was to gain an in-depth understanding of women’s injection drug use experiences with a focus on interpersonal involvement. Methods: Venue-based recruitment was conducted in collaboration with a harm reduction program. A group of 30 women, ages 18 and older, who reported injecting drugs within the past 30 days took part in a demographic survey and semi-structured interview to gain an understanding of their injection practices. In vivo coding and thematic analysis were conducted. Results: Three main themes that relate to incorporating others into injection drug behaviors surfaced, including: (1) injection practices described as we and not I, (2) partnered purchase and drug preparation, and (3) assisted injection. This group of women most often incorporated sexual and/or romantic partners (same and other-gender), friends, or family members into their injection drug use behaviors. Some women described a lack of ability to inject themselves and require assistance every time they use. Women also reported helping other women during drug use behaviors. Conclusions: Our primary themes indicate that a variety of relationship partners are important conceptual links in theoretical frameworks explaining drug use behaviors among women. Findings suggest same gender assistance during drug use behaviors, including injection, that may reduce harm. The interpersonal nature of injection drug use among women may indicate the expansion of treatment options designed for couples or other relationship partners, such as family, together.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)912-918
Number of pages7
JournalSubstance Abuse
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Women
  • assisted injection
  • heroin
  • injection drug use
  • opioid-related disorders


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