Use of the femoral vein ('groin injecting') by a sample of needle exchange clients in Bristol, UK

Harm Reduct J. 2005 Apr 15;2(1):6. doi: 10.1186/1477-7517-2-6.


BACKGROUND: Use of the femoral vein for intravenous access by injecting drug users (IDUs) (commonly called 'groin injecting') is a practice that is often observed but on which little is written in the literature. The purpose of this study was to describe self-reported data from a sample of groin injectors on the natural history and rationale regarding their groin injecting, to inform future research and the development of appropriate harm reduction strategies. METHODS: A convenience sample of groin injectors willing to participate in a semi-structured interview were recruited through the Bristol Drugs Project Harm Reduction Service. The interviews were conducted over the period of one week. Data on transition to groin injecting, rationale for use and incidence of problems were collected. RESULTS: Forty seven IDUs currently injecting in their femoral vein ('groin') were interviewed, 66% (n = 31) male and 34% (n = 16) female. Their mean age was 31 yrs (range 17 to 50 yrs; SD = 7.7). The mean length of time since first injecting episode was 9.6 yrs (range 6 mths to 30 yrs; SD = 7.0). The mean length of time since use of the groin began was 2.6 years (range 1 mth to 15 yrs; SD = 3.3). The mean length of time between first injection and first use of the groin was 7.0 yrs (SD = 7.0). One person had used no other area for venous access prior to using the groin, nine people had used one, nine people had used two, 10 people had used three, five people had used four and 13 people had used more than four areas. The main reason given for starting to inject in the groin was that 'no other sites were left'. However further discussion identified this meant no other convenient sites were accessible. Practises such as the rotation of injecting sites, as advocated in many harm reduction leaflets, were reported to be difficult and unreliable. The risk of missing the vein and subsequently losing the 'hit' was considered high. Use of the non-dominant hand to administer injections was problematic and deterred rotation between arms. The groin site was reported to be convenient, provide quick access, with little mess and less pain than smaller more awkward veins. The formation of sinuses over time facilitated continued use of the groin. Approximately two thirds of participants had experienced difficulty gaining IV access at their groin. Common problem included scar tissue occlusion, swelling and pain. Some reported infections and past history of deep vein thrombosis. CONCLUSION: Use of the groin was perceived to be convenient by the study group. Problems following safer injecting advice were identified, including dexterity difficulties leading to fear of losing the 'hit'. Health problems at the groin site did not deter use. These results suggest further qualitative work is needed to explore the difficulties in following safer injecting advice in more detail and inform the development of more appropriate advice. Further quantitative work is necessary to establish the prevalence of groin injecting amongst IDUs and the incidence of associated problems. There is a need for a longitudinal study to examine the relationship between injecting technique and loss of patency of veins. If protective factors could be identified, evidence-based safer injecting advice could be established to preserve peripheral veins and reduce use of the groin site, which is high risk and associated with serious adverse consequences.