Dangerous Practice of Injecting Addicts’ Blood Emerges in African Cities

The New York Times has reported on a rare, but extremely dangerous new trend among heroin addicts in some African cities. Desperate heroin addicts have begun injecting themselves with others’ blood in an attempt to share their high or stave off withdrawal symptoms. Known as “flashblood” or “flushbood,” this shocking practice has become the most risky form of drug sharing that doctors working in the cities of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Mombasa, Kenya, and the island of Zanzibar have yet encountered among substance users.

Traditional methods of heroin use already pose a great risk to heroin abusers’ health and their chance of contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or other deadly diseases. Yet the new practice of flashblood creates a heightened threat of contracting AIDS and other viruses as heroin abusers can inject just under a teaspoon of another’s blood in one injection, which is more than enough to contract transmittable diseases.

Although the practice of flashblood is not common, reports from these areas are indicating that heroin addicts are resorting to this risky behavior to abet their addictions in the face of poverty. In Tanzania, heroin is used by both men and women, but female abusers are much more susceptible to HIV infection and are also more likely to engage in flashblood. Because female addicts are likely to be supporting themselves through prostitution, they have a higher risk of contracting HIV through sexual contact as well as drug-sharing practices like exchanging syringes. When the supply of heroin becomes scarce, or when prostitutes are unable to make enough profit from sex work to make drug purchases, some prostitutes who manage to score heroin will turn to flashblood as a favor to their friends to help alleviate withdrawal. Some heroin-addicted prostitutes can become too sick or old to find work and become vulnerable to their addictions, which some have admitted causes them to rely on flashblood to share a high with others.

In contrast, according to a 2006 study, flashblood is more common among male heroin abusers in Zanzibar. As reported in The African Journal of Drug and Alcohol Studies, 9.1% of substance abusers from this area who use injection as their method of consumption also engage in flashblood. Some accounts of East African addicts selling their blood has also surfaced, but researchers in the area have been unable to confirm the reports. Even though the practice of flashblood is quite unknown to the public and there is no concrete measure of its widespread use, medical researchers believe that the East African practice can proliferate into other nearby populations stricken with heroin abuse. More unconfirmed reports of flashblood-like drug practices have emerged in Pakistan and other countries where heroin is a common substance of abuse.

There is no scientific or medical proof that injecting small amounts of blood between drug users can actually create any such high. Some heroin users who have come forward to local doctors working in East Africa claim that they do experience a type of drug rush and even pass out during the experience. Some regional doctors believe that this alleged high is really the result of the placebo effect since such a tiny amount of blood might not significantly impact a human’s bloodstream which already contains an average of five quarts of blood. On the other hand, heroin abusers practicing flashblood may be experiencing a high from the traces of heroin still remaining on the shared syringe needle. Heroin abusers who inject the substance into their veins typically have to repeat the injection process three to four times as blood can be drawn into the syringe and some heroin may have been left out of the primary injection. Those who practice flashblood tend to share their needles after having injected just once, leaving a mix of their own blood and the substance within the syringe.

There was not much of a heroin market in these African cities until recently. Historically, drug smugglers from heroin-producing nations like Afghanistan or Asian countries would overlook African nations as a market because their citizens have always been too poor to make any valuable purchases. Within the last ten years, however, drug smugglers have been using these African maritime and transit cities as thoroughfares for their European drug trafficking. Local law enforcement and medical researchers have noticed the spread of heroin abuse within these regions, but distribution is difficult to combat due to corruption and a lack of manpower. Because less travel is required to import drugs into eastern and southern Africa, heroin prices have dramatically dropped on the streets.

Already plagued by the AIDS epidemic, flashblood creates another world of threat to vulnerable African drug addicts and their communities. Injecting fresh blood is the most guaranteed way of contracting life-threatening viruses; even though flashblood is only occurring within small groups of drug users, the transmission of viruses from these individuals can take off through multiple avenues. Dangerous practices like injecting, snorting, and sex work among flashblood users all have the ability of spreading HIV/AIDS throughout the population.

Posted on July 14th, 2010
Posted in Heroin

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