This article explores how social network dynamics may have reduced the spread of HIV-1 infection among people who inject drugs during the early years of the epidemic. Stochastic, discrete event, agent-based simulations are used to test whether a "firewall effect" can arise out of self-organizing processes at the actor level, and whether such an effect can account for stable HIV prevalence rates below population saturation. Repeated simulation experiments show that, in the presence of recurring, acute, and highly infectious outbreaks, micro-network structures combine with the HIV virus's natural history to reduce the spread of the disease. These results indicate that network factors likely played a significant role in the prevention of HIV infection within injection risk networks during periods of peak prevalence. They also suggest that social forces that disturb network connections may diminish the natural firewall effect and result in higher rates of HIV.