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Intravenous drug use

Indiana State ban on Needle Share programmes faces challenge of an IDU-fuelled HIV spike

20 Apr, 15 | by Leslie Goode, Blogmaster

In 2011 18.5% of HIV infections in the US were attributable to intravenous drug-use (IDU) – a significant proportion (Lansky & Wejnert (STIs)).  The issue of IDU fuelled HIV transmission has been brought forcibly to the attention of Americans in the last few weeks by the recent HIV outbreak in Scott County, Indiana, US.  This local epidemic appears to have been the result of the recreational use of the opiate, Opala. The number of infections has continued to rise, reaching a new peak of 130 this last week (Indystar/needle exchange; npr/Indiana’s HIV spike).

The effectiveness of public health interventions amongst IDU, including needle exchange programmes is well-established. Recent studies in Russia and East-European contexts (Vagaitseva & Demyanenko (STIs); Boci & Bani (STIs)), where IDU accounts for greatest proportion of infections,  have also come to very positive conclusions about their cost-effectiveness (Demyanenko & Vagaitseva (STIs).  They have also considered ways of improving uptake among drug-users (Boci & Hallkaj (STIs).  Sadly, in 23 states of the US – as in Russia and some East-European countries – traditional legal restrictions on needle exchange programmes remain in force (LawAtlas/US).  Indiana just happens to be one of these US states.  Its governor, who has had to authorize a short-term moratorium on the legal restriction of needle exchange in response to the outbreak, just happens to be Mike Pence, a republican who is known for his especially hawkish views on social issues (see “US Republicans prepared to put the poor at risk” (STI/blogs)) and favours continuation of the ban.

Needless to say, an order authorizing the temporary suspension of the restrictions on needle exchange was issued last month.  A needle-exchange programme has distributed 5,300 clean needles to drug-users since 8th April when it began its activities.

Unfortunately, however, the temporary suspension is due to expire on 25th April.  It also applies only to Scott County. Health experts are pushing legislators to allow needle exchange in neighbouring counties of Indiana, where high levels of HCV indicate a high risk of similar outbreaks.  On Monday, a joint Senate and House Legislative Committee will consider a measure, authored by Ed Clere, a representative from a neighbouring county, to authorize local public health and law enforcement authorities to work together to start their own need exchange programmes. But Governor Pence has threatened to veto the measure.  He declines to explain his position in public, but is said by Senate President, David Long, to believe that needle exchange programmes lead to greater drug use (News & Tribune/Indiana’s needle exchange bill).

IDU and HIV in the Middle East: a brief window of opportunity?

22 Jul, 14 | by Leslie Goode, Blogmaster

There are regions of the world where intravenous drug use (IDU) is known to have a key role in evolving HIV epidemics.  Information about IDU populations, on the basis of which to motivate and inform public health interventions, can be scant and of poor quality (STI/Aceijas & Hickman).  This deficiency is particularly important to address, given the possibility in some contexts of these populations serving as a bridge into other populations (STI/Reza & Blanchard; STI/Decker & Beyrer), and the practicality and cost-effectiveness of interventions that could make a difference (e.g. needle/syringe exchange programmes) (STI/Demyanenko & Vagaitseva; STI/Boci & Hallkaj).

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is among the regions of the world in which IDU might be expected to be a key epidemiological factor – given the availability and cheapness of drugs (US$ 4 per gram of heroine, as against US$ 100 in Europe).  But, as recently as 2005, the region was characterized as “as real hole in terms of HIV/AIDS epidemiological data” – let alone in terms of IDU HIV data.  STI/Reza & Blanchard in an alarming study of epidemiological bridging in Pakistan do not include other MENA countries among the epidemiological parallels to which they refer – perhaps because of the lack of data.

A recent systematic review by Mumtaz & Abu-Raddad (M&R) may go some way to addressing this need, but points to the importance of further research.  M&R review and synthesize data from sources (e.g. international and regional databases, and country-level reports) relevant to actual and potential HIV risk for IDU populations across 23 nations in MENA.  They estimate average IDU over the region at 0.24 per 100 adults, and HIV prevalence in these populations averaging 10-15% (both figures comparable with what we find in other regions).  Among the 10 (23) nations for which good evidence is available, 6 show concentrated epidemics suddenly emerging over the last ten years (Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Morocco, Libya), at national (Iran, Pakistan) or local (Afghanistan, Egypt, Morocco, Libya) level; 4-5 others show low level epidemics.

This study delivers a strong message.  Data from countries for which there is evidence of low level IDU HIV epidemics suggests “moderate HIV potential” (i.e. high levels of unsafe practices reflected in prevalence of Hepatitis C and other STIs).  The same, for all anyone knows, may also be true for those 13 countries for which the evidence is not available.  Pakistan saw rocketing levels of HIV (from near 0% to 23% in six months) following introduction of the infection into IDU populations.  Low prevalence countries, including those about which we know little, may have only a brief “window of opportunity” before they experience a comparable explosion of HIV among their own IDU populations.  This, according to M&A makes it imperative to conduct studies in those 13 countries, and to implement further rounds of surveillance in those for which there is already evidence, with a view to making timely and effective interventions.  M&A cite, as evidence of the patchy coverage of IDU by existing prevention services over the region, the very small proportion of the IDU population reporting ever being tested for HIV as indicated by studies conducted in Morocco and Pakistan.

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