"People who use heroin (PWUH) have increased morbidity and mortality compared to the general population [1]. A syndemic of opioid overdose, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), skin and soft tissue infections (SSTI), and infective endocarditis accounts for many of the poor health outcomes among PWUH [2,3,4,5]. Heroin can be consumed in several ways, including injection and smoking [6]. High-risk injection behaviors, including syringe sharing and reuse of non-sterile injection equipment, are established routes of HIV and HCV transmission and increase risk of SSTI and infective endocarditis [7,8,9]. Opioid overdose is a common cause of mortality among PWUH, with higher overdose risk among those who inject [10,11,12].

"Because smoking heroin does not injure the skin or introduce non-sterile equipment into blood or tissue, this method of consumption does not entail the same risk of blood-borne infections or SSTI compared to injection. While similar pharmacological effects can be achieved by smoking or injecting heroin, peak plasma concentrations are 2–4 times lower when heroin is smoked, which may reduce risk of lethal opioid overdose [13, 14]. Programs that encourage PWUH to transition from injecting to smoking heroin may decrease injection frequency and thereby reduce harms associated with heroin use, including risks of infection and overdose [15]. Distribution of smoking equipment may also help PWUH avoid using pipes fashioned from cans or other poor-quality materials that easily crack or overheat, thereby reducing risk of developing burns or cuts on the lips that can serve as sites of infection [16,17,18]. Pipe distribution programs may also reduce pipe sharing, a risk behavior potentially associated with respiratory virus or HCV transmission [17,18,19,20]."


Fitzpatrick, T., McMahan, V.M., Frank, N.D. et al. Heroin pipe distribution to reduce high-risk drug consumption behaviors among people who use heroin: a pilot quasi-experimental study. Harm Reduct J 19, 103 (2022). doi.org/10.1186/s12954-022-00685-7