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SMOKE IT! Promoting a change of opiate consumption pattern - from injecting to inhaling

Heino Johann Stöver1* and Dirk Schäffer2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Addiction Research, Frankfurt 60318, Germany

2 Deutsche AIDS Hilfe e.V., Berlin 10963, Germany

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Harm Reduction Journal 2014, 11:18  doi:10.1186/1477-7517-11-18

Published: 27 June 2014



Intravenous drug use has been predominantly practised since illegal heroin use became known in Germany in the early 1970s. The available data suggest that the risk of accidental overdose when smoking heroin is substantially reduced compared to injecting a substance of unknown purity and quality. Moreover, the risk of transmitting HIV, Hepatitis B or C via blood contact is considerably reduced when smoking heroin rather than when injecting it intravenously. In spite of the significant strain on the lungs and the respiratory tract caused by smoking, it can be concluded that inhalative use - measured by the indicators ‘overdose’ and ‘viral infections’ is considerably less dangerous than intravenous use. Despite these harm-reducing effects of inhalative use, there is only very limited scientific survey on this subject. The project ‘SMOKE IT!’ studied to what extent a change of the consumption method can be supported by making new equipment for drug use available.


‘SMOKE IT!’ was carried out as a multi-centre survey in drug consumption rooms (DCRs) in five German cities. Participants received ‘SMOKE-IT!’ packs that contained new heroin smoking foils, as well as information about inhalative drug use. The quantitative data collection was aided by a written questionnaire filled out at three different stages in 2012.


The vast majority of the 165 respondents favoured using the foils from the ‘SMOKE-IT!’ packs (82.5%). The survey shows that two-thirds of the sample used the SMOKE-IT foils for inhaling instead of injecting. Almost six out of ten said that smoking was healthier than injecting. Thirty-five percent of the participants named the reduced risk of a hepatitis or HIV infection as a particularly important factor. A third of the respondents used the smoking foils to avoid the danger of an overdose.


Targeted media and personal intervention in association with the dispensation of attractive drug use equipment can motivate opiate users to change their method of drug use. The main reason for inhalative use is that it is significantly less dangerous, measured by the indicators ‘overdose’ and ‘viral infections’. All drop-in centres should expand their syringe-exchange services to include the dispensation of smoking foils.

Drug use; Foil; SMOKE IT; Inhalative; Injection; Harm reduction; Morbidity; Mortality; Route transition interventions