Perspectives of patients who inject drugs on a needle and syringe program at a large acute care hospital

PLoS One. 2024 Feb 15;19(2):e0297584. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0297584. eCollection 2024.


Background: People who inject drugs in North America often continue to inject while hospitalized, and are at increased risk of premature hospital discharge, unplanned readmission, and death. In-hospital access to sterile injection supplies may reduce some harms associated with ongoing injection drug use. However, access to needle and syringe programs in acute care settings is limited. We explored the implementation of a needle and syringe program integrated into a large urban tertiary hospital in Western Canada. The needle and syringe program was administered by an addiction medicine consult team that offers patients access to specialized clinical care and connection to community services.

Methods: We utilized a focused ethnographic design and semi-structured interviews to elicit experiences and potential improvements from 25 hospitalized people who inject drugs who were offered supplies from the needle and syringe program.

Results: Participants were motivated to accept supplies to prevent injection-related harms and access to supplies was facilitated by trust in consult team staff. However, fears of negative repercussions from non-consult team staff, including premature discharge or undesired changes to medication regimes, caused some participants to hesitate or refuse to accept supplies. Participants described modifications to hospital policies regarding inpatient drug use or access to an inpatient supervised consumption service as potential ways to mitigate patients' fears.

Conclusions: Acute care needle and syringe programs may aid hospital providers in reducing harms and improving hospital outcomes for people who inject drugs. However, modifications to hospital policies and settings may be necessary.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Needle-Exchange Programs
  • Needles
  • Policy
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous* / complications

Grants and funding

EH received funding from the M.S.I. Foundation (#881) for this study. EH's faculty received salary support from the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation and Policywise for Children and Families. KD also received salary funding from Alberta Health Services and committee honoraria from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. These funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section.