Skin and Soft Tissue Infections

Lived Experience

What we are studying

Skin and soft tissue infections (SSTIs) include abscesses and cellulitis. SSTIs can result in serious health complications among people who use drugs (PWUD), particularly if high-quality treatment is unavailable. Traditional healthcare treatment settings are often unwelcoming and inaccessible to PWUD, potentially leading to delays in getting necessary care.

Why it matters

Community organizations are reporting increasing occurrence and severity of SSTIs among PWUD.

In order to reduce SSTI occurrence and improve SSTI-related outcomes, it is critical to identify safe healthcare settings offering quality care for PWUD.

How we are studying it

Our team conducted a health needs assessment among participants of five syringe services programs (SSPs) in North Carolina. Representatives from the North Carolina Survivors’ Union and four other SSPs administered surveys during July through September 2020. Surveys asked PWUD about their SSTI experiences, healthcare experiences, and recommendations to improve quality of care. This project was conceptualized and led by people with lived experience of drug use.

How to use the results

Our study found that most PWUD had experienced SSTIs. A main barrier to care was prior experiences with judgement and mistreatment by medical staff. Many participants reported self-treatment of infections with non-prescription antibiotics. Participants often suggested providing wound care services and antibiotics at SSPs.

Harm reduction organizations, including SSPs, are an essential provider of healthcare and social services for many PWUD. Results from this survey can be used to advocate for additional resources to expand harm reduced-based services, like funds to provide wound care kits and on-site wound care services.


Who is conducting and supporting the study

Key partners for this effort include the North Carolina Survivors Union (NCSU) and the University of North Carolina Injury Prevention Research Center. NCSU is a self-support group of people with lived experience of drug use, operating within a drop-in center and harm reduction program in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Funding for this project comes from the United States Food and Drug Administration. Studies at the Opioid Data Lab are conducted by independent researchers and do not necessarily represent the views of funders or partners. We are grateful to generations of taxpayers in North Carolina for supporting public universities. We are also grateful to US taxpayers for safeguarding public health by supporting FDA and this research project. These projects are being registered with the University of North Carolina Institutional Review Board.

Nabarun Dasgupta
Epidemiologist, Factotum