Background: Providing sterile drug smoking materials to people who use drugs can prevent the acquisition of infectious diseases and reduce overdose risk. However, there is a lack of understanding of how these practices are being implemented and received by people who use drugs globally.
Methods: A systematic review of safer smoking practices was conducted by searching PubMed, PsycInfo, Embase for relevant peer-reviewed, English-language publications from inception or the availability of online manuscripts through December 2022.
Results: Overall, 32 peer-reviewed papers from six countries were included. 30 studies exclusively included people who use drugs as participants (n = 11 people who use drugs; generally, n = 17 people who smoke drugs, n = 2 people who inject drugs). One study included program staff serving people who use drugs, and one study included staff and people who use drugs. Sharing smoking equipment (e.g., pipes) was reported in 25 studies. People who use drugs in several studies reported that pipe sharing occurred for multiple reasons, including wanting to accumulate crack resin and protect themselves from social harms, such as police harassment. Across studies, smoking drugs, as opposed to injecting drugs, were described as a crucial method to reduce the risk of overdose, disease acquisition, and societal harms such as police violence. Ten studies found that when people who use drugs were provided with safer smoking materials, they engaged in fewer risky drug use behaviors (e.g., pipe sharing, using broken pipes) and showed improved health outcomes. However, participants across 11 studies reported barriers to accessing safer smoking services. Solutions to overcoming safer smoking access barriers were described in 17 studies and included utilizing peer workers and providing safer smoking materials to those who asked.
Conclusion: This global review found that safer smoking practices are essential forms of harm reduction. International policies must be amended to help increase access to these essential tools. Additional research is also needed to evaluate the efficacy of and access to safer smoking services, particularly in the U.S. and other similar countries, where such practices are being implemented but have not been empirically studied in the literature.