“I would rather do it myself”: injection initiation and current injection patterns among women who inject drugs in Tijuana, Mexico

Stewart, Allison; West, Brooke S.; Rafful, Claudia; Lazos, Kenya; Jain, Jennifer; Gonzalez-Zuniga, Patricia; Rocha-Jimenez, Teresita

Women who inject drugs (WWID) experience unique risks and adverse health outcomes related to injection initiation and patterns of injection drug use. However, there is limited information on injection initiation experiences and injection patterns among women and the protective strategies employed to limit injection-related harms, especially in low- and middle-income settings. Therefore, this study sought to explore injection initiation and current injection patterns (e.g., relying on someone else to inject) among women who inject drugs and engage in sex work in Tijuana, Mexico.

Semistructured in-depth interviews were conducted with 30 WWID on the following topics: injection initiation, current injection patterns, places where women inject, and protective strategies (i.e., risk reduction). All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and de-identified. An inductive thematic analysis was conducted to identify and compare common themes and patterns across participants.

The interviews revealed that the vast majority of study participants were first initiated by another person who injects drugs (PWID), often a male sexual partner. However, the majority of the women transitioned to become self-injectors in order to avoid risks associated with relying on others for injection, including overdose, interpersonal violence, sexual abuse, and wounds. Those who relied on others indicated that they would prefer to inject themselves without assistance from others if they were able to.

The narratives uncovered in this study reveal the importance of multiple risk environments in shaping perceived risks associated with injection drug use among women in Tijuana, Mexico. Specifically, the interviews elucidate the connection between interpersonal relationships with other PWID and protective strategies used to minimize risk and harm. These findings highlight the need for women-centered harm reduction programs to facilitate the development of safer drug use environments among WWID in Tijuana, Mexico.


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Harm Reduction Journal

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Published Here
December 20, 2022


Injection drug use, Gender, Risk environment, Women who inject drugs, Harm reduction, USA–Mexico border