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1.  Socio-demographic factors, health risks and harms associated with early initiation of injection among people who inject drugs in Tallinn, Estonia: evidence from cross-sectional surveys 
To explore socio-demographic factors, health risks and harms associated with early initiation of injecting (before age 16) among injecting drug users (IDUs) in Tallinn, Estonia.
IDUs were recruited using respondent driven sampling methods for two cross-sectional interviewer-administered surveys (in 2007 and 2009). Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression analysis was used to identify factors associated with early initiation versus later initiation.
A total of 672 current IDUs reported the age when they started to inject drugs; the mean was 18 years, and about a quarter of the sample (n=156) reported early initiation into injecting drugs. Factors significantly associated in multivariate analysis with early initiation were being female, having a lower educational level, being unemployed, shorter time between first drug use and injecting, high-risk injecting (sharing syringes and paraphernalia, injecting more than once a day), involvement in syringe exchange attendance and getting syringes from outreach workers, and two-fold higher risk of HIV seropositivity.
Our results document significant adverse health consequences (including higher risk behaviour and HIV seropositivity) associated with early initiation into drug injecting and emphasize the need for comprehensive prevention programs and early intervention efforts targeting youth at risk. Our findings suggest that interventions designed to delay the age of starting drug use, including injecting drug use, can contribute to reducing risk behaviour and HIV prevalence among IDUs.
PMCID: PMC3566328  PMID: 23036651
Adolescents; injecting drug use; risk behaviour; Eastern Europe; Respondent Driven Sampling; HIV
2.  CCR5 Haplotypes Influence HCV Serostatus in Caucasian Intravenous Drug Users 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e70561.
Up to 90% HIV-1 positive intravenous drug users (IDUs) are co-infected with HCV. Although best recognized for its function as a major co-receptor for cell entry of HIV, CC chemokine receptor 5 (CCR5) has also been implicated in the pathogenesis of HCV infection. Here, we investigated whether CCR5 haplotypes influence HIV-1 and HCV seropositivity among 373 Caucasian IDUs from Estonia.
Of these IDUs, 56% and 44% were HIV and HCV seropositive, respectively, and 47% were coinfected. 500 blood donors seronegative for HIV and HCV were also evaluated. CCR5 haplotypes (HHA to HHG*2) were derived after genotyping nine CCR2–CCR5 polymorphisms. The association between CCR5 haplotypes with HIV and/or HCV seropositivity was determined using logistic regression analysis. Co-variates included in the models were length of intravenous drug use, HBV serostatus and copy number of CCL3L1, the gene encoding the most potent HIV-suppressive chemokine and ligand for CCR5.
Compared to IDUs seronegative for both HCV and HIV (HCV−/HIV-), IDUs who were HCV+/HIV- and HCV+/HIV+were 92% and 82%, respectively, less likely to possess the CCR5-HHG*1 haplotype, after controlling for co-variates (Padjusted = 1.89×10−4 and 0.003, respectively). This association was mostly due to subjects bearing the CCR5 HHE and HHG*1 haplotype pairs. Approximately 25% and<10% of HCV−/HIV- IDUs and HCV−/HIV- blood donors, respectively, possessed the HHE/HHG*1 genotype.
Our findings suggest that HHG*1-bearing CCR5 genotypes influence HCV seropositivity in a group of Caucasian IDUs.
PMCID: PMC3723663  PMID: 23936229
3.  Multiple routes of drug administration and HIV risk among injecting drug users 
This study assesses relationships between drug administration routes and HIV serostatus, drug-use and sexual behaviors among current injecting drug users (IDUs) in Tallinn, Estonia. We recruited 350 IDUs for a cross-sectional risk behavior survey. Adjusted odds ratios (AORs) were calculated to explore injection risk behavior, sexual behavior and HIV serostatus associated with multiple route use. Focus groups explored reasons why injectors might use non-injecting routes of administration. Those reporting multiple drug administration routes were less likely to be HIV seropositive (AOR 0.49; 95%CI 0.25-0.97), had almost twice the odds of having more than one sexual partner (AOR 1.90; 95%CI 1.01-3.60) and of reporting having sexually transmitted diseases (AOR 2.38; 95%CI 1.02-5.59).
IDUs who engage in non-injecting drug use may be reducing their risk of acquiring HIV though sharing injection equipment, but if infected may be a critical group for sexual transmission of HIV to people who do not inject drugs.
PMCID: PMC3289756  PMID: 22116012
Injecting drug use; HIV; Risk behavior; Illicit drug use; Sexual risk behaviors
4.  Expanded syringe exchange programs and reduced HIV infection among new injection drug users in Tallinn, Estonia 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:517.
Estonia has experienced an HIV epidemic among intravenous drug users (IDUs) with the highest per capita HIV prevalence in Eastern Europe. We assessed the effects of expanded syringe exchange programs (SEP) in the capital city, Tallinn, which has an estimated 10,000 IDUs.
SEP implementation was monitored with data from the Estonian National Institute for Health Development. Respondent driven sampling (RDS) interview surveys with HIV testing were conducted in Tallinn in 2005, 2007 and 2009 (involving 350, 350 and 327 IDUs respectively). HIV incidence among new injectors (those injecting for < = 3 years) was estimated by assuming (1) new injectors were HIV seronegative when they began injecting, and (2) HIV infection occurred at the midpoint between first injection and time of interview.
SEP increased from 230,000 syringes exchanged in 2005 to 440,000 in 2007 and 770,000 in 2009. In all three surveys, IDUs were predominantly male (80%), ethnic Russians (>80%), and young adults (mean ages 24 to 27 years). The proportion of new injectors decreased significantly over the years (from 21% in 2005 to 12% in 2009, p = 0.005). HIV prevalence among all respondents stabilized at slightly over 50% (54% in 2005, 55% in 2007, 51% in 2009), and decreased among new injectors (34% in 2005, 16% in 2009, p = 0.046). Estimated HIV incidence among new injectors decreased significantly from 18/100 person-years in 2005 and 21/100 person-years in 2007 to 9/100 person-years in 2009 (p = 0.026).
In Estonia, a transitional country, a decrease in the HIV prevalence among new injectors and in the numbers of people initiating injection drug use coincided with implementation of large-scale SEPs. Further reductions in HIV transmission among IDUs are still required. Provision of 70 or more syringes per IDU per year may be needed before significant reductions in HIV incidence occur.
PMCID: PMC3146432  PMID: 21718469
5.  CCL3L1 copy number is a strong genetic determinant of HIV seropositivity in Caucasian intravenous drug users 
The Journal of infectious diseases  2010;201(5):730-739.
A high copy number of CCL3L1, the most potent HIV-suppressive chemokine, associates with reduced HIV susceptibility. Whether CCL3L1 influences acquisition of multiple blood-borne infections (HCV, HIV-1, HBV) that occurs commonly among intravenous drug users (IDUs) is unknown.
We determined CCL3L1 copy number by real-time PCR among 374 Caucasian IDUs from Estonia of whom 285 were HCV-positive, 208 HIV+, 177 HCV+/HIV+, and 57 HCV−/HIV−.
In univariate and multivariate analyses, HCV and HBV seropositivity, and duration of IDU each strongly predicted HIV seropositivity. A high CCL3L1 copy number (>2) associated with a 80% reduced risk of acquiring HIV, after adjusting for age, gender, HCV/HBV status, CCR5-Δ32 polymorphism and IDU duration (OR=0.20; 95% CI=0.09–0.45). By contrast, CCL3L1 gene dose did not influence HCV seropositivity. Among HCV+ IDUs, there was a 3.5-fold over- and 65% under-representation of a high CCL3L1 copy number among HCV+/HIV− and HCV+/HIV+ subjects, respectively.
Among IDUs exposed heavily to HCV/HIV, CCL3L1 copy number is a major determinant of HIV seropositivity, but not HCV seropositivity. The contrasting distribution of a protective high CCL3L1 copy number among HCV+/HIV− vs HCV+/HIV+ IDUs may reflect that HIV preferentially selects for subjects with a low CCL3L1 gene dose.
PMCID: PMC2836481  PMID: 20095832
chemokine copy number; HIV; HCV; IDU
6.  Should Pharmacists have a Role in Harm Reduction Services for IDUs? A Qualitative Study in Tallinn, Estonia 
Despite the high number of injecting drug users (IDUs) in Estonia, little is known about involving pharmacies into human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention activities and potential barriers. Similarly, in other Eastern European countries, there is a need for additional sources for clean syringes besides syringe exchange programmes (SEPs), but data on current practices relating to pharmacists’ role in harm reduction strategies is scant. Involving pharmacies is especially important for several reasons: they have extended hours of operation and convenient locations compared to SEPs, may provide access for IDUs who have avoided SEPs, and are a trusted health resource in the community. We conducted a series of focus groups with pharmacists and IDUs in Tallinn, Estonia, to explore their attitudes toward the role of pharmacists in HIV prevention activities for IDUs. Many, but not all, pharmacists reported a readiness to sell syringes to IDUs to help prevent HIV transmission. However, negative attitudes toward IDUs in general and syringe sales to them specifically were identified as important factors restricting such sales. The idea of free distribution of clean syringes or other injecting equipment and disposal of used syringes in pharmacies elicited strong resistance. IDUs stated that pharmacies were convenient for acquiring syringes due to their extended opening hours and local distribution. IDUs were positive toward pharmacies, although they were aware of stigma from pharmacists and other customers. They also emphasized the need for distilled water and other injection paraphernalia. In conclusion, there are no formal or legislative obstacles for providing HIV prevention services for IDUs at pharmacies. Addressing negative attitudes through educational courses and involving pharmacists willing to be public health educators in high drug use areas would improve access for HIV prevention services for IDUs.
PMCID: PMC2791822  PMID: 19921542
Injecting drug users; Pharmacists; Harm reduction services
7.  Comparison of injecting drug users who obtain syringes from pharmacies and syringe exchange programs in Tallinn, Estonia 
Both syringe exchange programs (SEPs) and pharmacy sales of syringes are available in Estonia, though the current high incidence and high prevalence of HIV among injection drug users (IDUs) in Tallinn, Estonia requires large-scale implementation of additional harm reduction programs as a matter of great urgency. The aims of this report were to compare risk behavior and HIV infection and to assess the prevention needs among IDUs who primarily use pharmacies as their source of sterile syringes with IDUs who primarily use SEPs in Tallinn.
A cross-sectional study using respondent-driven sampling was used to recruit 350 IDUs for an interviewer-administered survey and HIV testing. IDUs were categorized into two groups based on their self-reported main source for syringes within the last six months. Odds ratios with 95% CI were used to compare characteristics and risk factors between the groups.
The main sources of sterile needles for injection drug users were SEP/SEP outreach (59%) and pharmacies (41%). There were no differences in age, age at injection drug use initiation, the main drug used or experiencing overdoses. Those IDUs using pharmacies as a main source of sterile needles had lower odds for being infected with either HIV (AOR 0.54 95% CI 0.33–0.87) or HCV (AOR 0.10 95% CI 0.02–0.50), had close to twice the odds of reporting more than one sexual partner within the previous 12 months (AOR 1.88 95% CI 1.17–3.04) and engaging in casual sexual relationships (AOR 2.09 95% CI 1.24–3.53) in the last six months.
The data suggest that the pharmacy users were at a less "advanced" stage of their injection career and had lower HIV prevalence than SEP users. This suggests that pharmacies could be utilized as a site for providing additional HIV prevention messages, services for IDUs and in linking IDUs with existing harm reduction services.
PMCID: PMC2653475  PMID: 19232088

Results 1-7 (7)