Aims: To determine the frequency with which intravenous drug users (IDUs) experience broken needles during their injecting careers.
Design: Cross-sectional survey.
Participants: Seventy intravenous drug users held in police custody in Bristol between May and September 2002.
Measurements: Self-reported history of experience of broken needles.
Findings: Fourteen (20%, 95% CI 11-29%) had experienced a needle breaking while injecting. The total number of broken needles was 23, of which 14 (61%) were recovered, four by surgical intervention, and the remainder as a result of direct action by the individual. Of the 23 broken needles, nine (39%) were reported to be fresh needles, whereas the remainder were being re-used.
Conclusions: IDUs may well experience, directly or indirectly, incidents involving broken needles during the course of their injecting careers. Given the potential for embolization and the risk of subsequent complications when this occurs, we recommend that harm minimization guidance should include advice about this potential hazard and the need for early action to retrieve broken needles.