Cleaning an environment which has been used by people who inject drugs (‘drug dens’) carries a number of risks.
Cleaning a house, vehicle or other setting filled with syringe and needles and other drug paraphernalia requires specialist expertise to ensure clean-up is done safely.
Hazards involved in cleaning up drug dens include viral, needlestick and other risks.
Here is what you need to know about cleaning environments used by injecting drug users.
Risk Areas for Used Needles
People who inject drugs are more likely than the general population to have complex mental health and dependency issues.
This makes this demographic less likely to safely discard drug paraphernalia such as needles and syringes in areas of use. It also raises the risk of other biological risks being present in clean up areas including blood and faeces due to poor personal hygiene.
According to a recent national survey with injecting drug users, the most common location for a person to inject drugs (78%) is in a private residence. As such, it’s important for landlords to be aware of the risks of discarded syringes and needles found on a property.
Amongst people experiencing homelessness, drug injection is most likely to occur within a vehicle or on the street.
People who inject drugs, whether heroin or ice, are at an increased risk of a number of viral infections including HIV, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C is particularly prevalent within this demographic, with 50-60% of injecting drug users testing positive for the Hep C virus.
Hepatitis B and C both attack the liver and can led to cirrhosis if untreated. HIV is a chronic condition which attacks the immune system, interfering with the body’s ability to fight infections.
All of these viral infections are chronic and life threatening, in the cases of HIV and Hepatitis B, there is no cure following infection.
Because of the serious repercussions of bloodborne virus infection, it’s important that caution be taken when cleaning sites used by injecting drug users.
Bloodborne viruses can survive outside the human body for several weeks, making the risk of infection for individuals cleaning environments used by injecting drug users very real.
The Hepatitis C virus is known for having a particularly persistent survival rate outside the body, having been documented up to six weeks on surfaces at room temperature.
There are many potential mechanisms for infection, including:
- Direct transmission (blood to blood).
- Airborne transmission (inhaled particulates)
- Vehicle borne transmission (particularly needle prick injuries)
It’s therefore important that people cleaning environments used by injecting drug users have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and know how to safely handle and discard used needles.
Members of the public should never attempt to remove needles or syringes themselves as they are putting themselves at risk of blood-borne virus infection.
In cleaning up drug dens the risk of a needlestick injury is very real.
If you have received a needlestick injury, it’s important that you remain calm and follow health advice.
Immediately after injury you should:
- Wash the wound with soap and water.
- If soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based hand rubs or solutions.
- If you are at work, notify your supervisor or occupational health and safety officer – you will need to fill out an accident report form.
- Go straight to your doctor, or to the nearest hospital emergency department.
The chances of being infected by a blood borne virus following a needle stick injury depend on the extent of the injury, the presence of visible blood on the needle as well as the bloodborne virus in question.
Generally, needle stick transmissions pose the most significant risk of Hepatitis B transmission to an unvaccinated person, with the odds of transmission as high as 30%.
How to approach cleaning up an environment used by injecting drug users depends on a number of factors.
All needle, syringe and other drug paraphernalia must be safely discarded to avoid the risk of needlestick injuries and viral spread.
Blood, faeces and other biological material found at the scene must also be cleaned and thoroughly disinfected to prevent viral transmission.
It may also be necessary to look for warning signs of drug manufacture, such as methamphetamine (ice) manufacture to see if further remediation is required.
Unless appropriately trained, general cleaning service providers should not be used to remediate an area where discarded drug paraphernalia is present.
Forensic Cleaning Australia are experts at safely cleaning properties and environments used by people who use drugs.
We have cleaners nation-wide who can effectively deal with a variety of hazardous sites.
If you are in need of our specialist services, please get in touch.