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Sharpening Syringe Tips

I was a junkie for a number of years in Portland, Oregon where syringes are not a controlled item. As a result, a user could (and still can) walk into a drug store and buy a bag of syringes. The cost there is still about $20 for a box of 100 which comes out to about 20 cents per rig--a hell of a lot better a price than the $2 you pay on the streets of San Francisco or New York.

syringe with parts named. The Evils of Reusing Syringes

In order to get away from the scene in Portland, I moved out to San Francisco where syringes are controlled in an evil effort to "send a message." This message must have something to do with the government's interest in spreading disease but I digress. In eight months of moderate chipping in California, I did much more damage to my veins than I had done in years as a junkie in Oregon.

The reason for this damage was that I reused syringes a lot whereas I never reused a syringe in Oregon. People talk about needle exchange programs and how it is not necessary to reuse syringes. These programs are wonderful and I have a great regard for those who run them. But they are only a partial solution; most junkies and many chippers simply inject too often for these limited budget programs to keep up with.

There is a lot of good information floating around on how to clean syringes--like this link. But as long as you are not sharing rigs, sharpening your needles is every bit as important as cleaning.

People have some very strange ideas about syringes. Just yesterday a guy--a former IV drug user--was telling me that syringes have little hooks on the end of the needle. Maybe he was thinking of a crocheting needle but probably he was referring to the fact that syringe tips are cut on a real angle: about 30 degrees. This allows them to penetrate the skin more easily with less pain to the injectee.

Why dull syringes cause body damage

The more a syringe is used, the more jagged and blunt it becomes. This is especially important to remember if the user has bad veins or bad injection technique; each needle insertion damages the tip. So a single perfect injection will not greatly harm the needle. On the other hand, if it takes ten entries before a vein is found, substantial damage may take place. And as the tip becomes more blunt, it becomes harder to find a vein, thus accelerating the damage done to the syringe tip.

Procedure for Sharpening Syringes

In order to sharpen a syringe, it really helps to have a magnifying glass. The large ones with internal lighting sources used by jewelers and cosmetologists are particularly good for this. These can sometimes be acquired at yard sales and flee markets.

Choosing a Striking Surface

Classically, people have used the striking surface on match boxes for the purpose of sharpening syringes. This is not a particularly bad choice and will certainly do in a pinch. The best choices are the Arkansas Stone or the Carbide Stone which can be purchased at most medical supply stores. It is a slightly odd item to buy so users should buy in person and pay cash.

Syringe geometry

Proper sharpening geometry.

Place the tip with its bevel (the angled part) flush with the sharpening surface at its edge. Drag the needle tip backwards along the surface. It is not necessary to press very hard. When finished with one pass, repeat the process. Always move in the one (backwards) direction. Just a couple of passes will do it in most cases but this is where a magnifying glass really helps.

Clean Syringes Carefully

After the sharpening is complete, it is very important to clean the syringe thoroughly. There will be a lot of little pieces of metal which would be very dangerous if injected. The user should clean the syringe before sharpening it because blood and other substances provide more surfaces for metal shards (and other byproducts of the sharpening process) to adhere to. After the sharpening, re-clean the syringe. Remember: there will be metal shards inside the syringe after it is sharpened.

Caution: No amount of cleaning and sharpening of used syringes will bring them back to their original perfect condition. And cleaning and sharpening, if done incorrectly, can make them more dangerous than they were before.

by Dr. H © 2001
Last Modified: 9 January 2004


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