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1.  The Impact of Engagement in Street-based Income Generation Activities on Stimulant Drug Use Cessation among People who Inject Drugs 
Drug and alcohol dependence  2014;141:58-64.
Despite the growing prevalence of illicit stimulant drug use internationally, and the widespread involvement of people who inject drugs (IDU) within street-based drug markets, little is known about the impact of different types of street-based income generation activities on the cessation of stimulant use among IDU.
Data were derived from an open prospective cohort of IDU in Vancouver, Canada. We used Kaplan-Meier methods and Cox proportional hazards regression to examine the effect of different types of street-based income generation activities (e.g., sex work, drug dealing, and scavenging) on time to cessation of stimulant use.
Between December, 2005 and November, 2012, 887 IDU who use stimulant drugs (cocaine, crack cocaine, or crystal methamphetamine) were prospectively followed-up for a median duration of 47 months. In Kaplan-Meier analyses, compared to those who did not engage in street-based income generation activities, participants who reported sex work, drug dealing, scavenging, or more than one of these activities were significantly less likely to report stimulant drug use cessation (all p<0.001). When considered as time-updated variables and adjusted for potential confounders in a multivariable model, each type of street-based income generation activity remained significantly associated with a slower time to stimulant drug cessation (all p<0.005).
Our findings highlight the urgent need for strategies to address stimulant dependence, including novel pharmacotherapies. Also important, structural interventions, such as low-threshold employment opportunities, availability of supportive housing, legal reforms regarding drug use, and evidence-based approaches that reduce harm among IDU are urgently required.
PMCID: PMC4090016  PMID: 24909853
people who inject drugs; stimulants; crack cocaine; crystal methamphetamine; drug cessation; street economy
2.  Inability to Access Addiction Treatment Among Street-Involved Youth in a Canadian Setting 
Substance use & misuse  2014;49(10):1233-1240.
From Sept 2005 to May 2012, 1015 street-involved youth were enrolled into the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS), a prospective cohort of youth aged 14- 26 who use illicit drugs in Vancouver Canada. Data was collected through semiannual interviewer administered questionnaires. Generalized estimating equation (GEE) logistic regression was used to identify factors independently associated with being unable to access addiction treatment. The enclosed manuscript notes the implications and limitations of this study, as well as possible directions for future research. This study was funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Canadian Institutes of Health (CIHR).
PMCID: PMC4454344  PMID: 24621085
street-involved youth; addiction treatment; homelessness; Aboriginal ancestry; prospective cohort
Sexually transmitted infections  2014;90(5):418-422.
Studies have demonstrated the central function of plasma HIV-1 RNA viral load (pVL) levels on determining the risk of HIV disease progression and transmission. However, there is limited empirical research on virologic outcomes among sex workers who use illicit drugs (SW-DU).
Data were derived from the AIDS Care Cohort to evaluate Exposure to Survival Services, a cohort of HIV-positive illicit drug users. Using generalised estimating equations, we studied the longitudinal relationship between sex work and pVL suppression. We also tested whether adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) mediated the relationship between sex work and pVL suppression.
Between May 1996 and May 2012, 587 ART-exposed participants (2224 person-years of observation) were included in the study, among whom 127 (21.6%) reported sex work. In a time-updated multivariate model adjusted for various demographic, socioeconomic and clinical confounders (eg, gender, incarceration, CD4 cell count), SW-DU had an independently reduced odds of pVL suppression compared to non-SW-DU (adjusted OR (AOR)=0.66; 95% CI 0.45 to 0.96). However, adding ART adherence to the multivariate model eliminated this association (p>0.05), suggesting adherence mediated the relationship between sex work and pVL suppression.
Evidence-based interventions to improve adherence to ART among SW-DU are urgently needed to help produce the maximum HIV treatment and prevention benefit of ART among this highly vulnerable population.
PMCID: PMC4102614  PMID: 24523347
Background and objectives
Despite recent increases in crystal methamphetamine use among high-risk populations such as street-involved youth, few prospective studies have examined the health and social outcomes associated with active crystal methamphetamine use.
We enrolled 1,019 street-involved youth in Vancouver, Canada, in a prospective cohort known as the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS). Participants were assessed semi-annually and a generalized estimating equation (GEE) logistic regression was used to identify factors independently associated with active crystal methamphetamine use.
Among 1,019 participants recruited into ARYS between 2005 and 2012 the median follow up duration was 17 months, 320 (31.4%) participants were female and 454 (44.6%) had previously used crystal methamphetamine at baseline. In adjusted GEE analyses, active crystal methamphetamine use was independently associated with Caucasian ethnicity (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR] = 1.37; 95% Confidence Interval [CI]: 1.04 – 1.81), homelessness (AOR = 1.34; 95% CI: 1.15 – 1.56), injection drug use (AOR = 3.40; 95% CI: 2.76 – 4.19), non-fatal overdose (AOR = 1.46; 95% CI: 1.07 – 2.00), being a victim of violence (AOR = 1.19; 95% CI: 1.02 – 1.38), involvement in sex work (AOR = 1.39; 95% CI: 1.03 – 1.86) and drug dealing (AOR = 1.60; 95% CI: 1.35 – 1.90).
Discussion and conclusions
Prevalence of crystal methamphetamine use was high in this setting and active use was independently associated with a range of serious health and social harms.
Scientific Significance
Evidence-based strategies to prevent and treat crystal methamphetamine use are urgently needed.
PMCID: PMC4072738  PMID: 24628742
crystal methamphetamin; youth; injection drug use; social harm; homelessness
5.  Binge Drug Use among Street-Involved Youth in a Canadian Setting 
Addiction research & theory  2014;22(6):535-540.
Binge drug use has been associated with increased risk of HIV infection and other serious health-related harms among adult drug user populations. This study sought to determine the prevalence and correlates of binge drug use among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting.
From Sept 2005 to May 2012, data were collected from the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS), a prospective cohort of street-involved youth aged 14 – 26 who use illicit drugs. Multivariate generalized estimating equations (GEE) was used to identify factors associated with binge drug use.
Of the 987 participants included in this analysis, 41.5% reported binge drug use at baseline, and another 59.1% reported binge drug use at some point during the study. In multivariate GEE analysis, older age (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.11), homelessness (AOR = 1.67), drug injecting (AOR = 1.63), non-fatal overdose (AOR = 1.98), public injecting (AOR 1.42), being a victim of violence (AOR = 1.38), sex work (AOR = 2.51) and participation in drug dealing (AOR = 2.04) were independently associated with binge drug use in the previous 6 months (all p<0.05).
The prevalence of reporting binge drug use among the youth was high in this setting and was independently associated with a range of high-risk activities and markers of vulnerability. Querying high-risk youth about binge drug use may help prioritize those in greatest need of addiction treatment strategies and public health interventions.
PMCID: PMC4476542  PMID: 26109928
binge drug use; injection drug use; street youth; public health; addiction; homelessness
6.  Gender Influences on Initiation of Injecting Drug Use 
Background and Objectives
Gender differences in illicit drug use patterns and related harms (e.g. HIV infection) are becoming increasingly recognized. However, little research has examined gender differences in risk factors for initiation into injecting drug use. We undertook this study to examine the relationship between gender and risk of injection initiation among street-involved youth and to determine whether risk factors for initiation differed between genders.
From September 2005 to November 2011, youth were enrolled into the At-Risk Youth Study, a cohort of street-involved youth aged 14-26 in Vancouver, Canada. Cox regression analyses were used to assess variables associated with injection initiation and stratified analyses considered risk factors for injection initiation among male and female participants separately.
Among 422 street-involved youth, 133 (32.5%) were female, and 77 individuals initiated injection over study follow-up. Although rates of injection initiation were similar between male and female youth (p =0.531), stratified analyses demonstrated that, among male youth, risk factors for injection initiation included sex work (Adjusted Hazard Ratio [AHR] =4.74, 95% Confidence Intervals [CI]: 1.45–15.5) and residence within the city's drug use epicentre (AHR =1.95, 95% CI: 1.12–3.41), whereas among female youth, non-injection crystal methamphetamine use (AHR =4.63, 95% CI: 1.89– 11.35) was positively associated with subsequent injection initiation.
Although rates of initiation into injecting drug use were similar for male and female street youth, the risk factors for initiation were distinct. These findings suggest a possible benefit of uniquely tailoring prevention efforts to high-risk males and females.
PMCID: PMC4454335  PMID: 24405226
Injection initiation; street youth; gender; sex work; crystal methamphetamine
7.  High prevalence of syringe lending among HIV-positive people who inject drugs in Bangkok, Thailand 
Syringe sharing continues to be a major driver of the HIV pandemic. In light of efforts to enhance access to sterile syringes and promote secondary prevention among HIV-positive individuals, we sought to identify the prevalence and correlates of used syringe lending among self-reported HIV-positive people who inject drugs (PWID) in Bangkok, Thailand.
We used bivariable statistics to examine factors associated with self-reported syringe lending among self-reported HIV-positive PWID participating in the Mitsampan Community Research Project, a serial cross-sectional study of PWID in Bangkok, between June 2009 and October 2011. In total, 127 individuals were eligible for this analysis, including 25 (19.7 %) women. Twenty-one (16.5 %) participants reported syringe lending in the prior 6 months. Factors significantly associated with syringe lending included daily methamphetamine injection (odds ratio (OR) = 10.2, 95 % CI, 2.1–53.6), daily midazolam injection (OR = 3.1, 95 % CI, 1.1–8.7), use of drugs in combination (OR = 4.5, 95 % CI, 1.0–41.6), injecting with others on a frequent basis (OR = 4.25, 95 % CI, 1.3–18.3), and not receiving antiretroviral therapy (OR = 2.9, 95 % CI, 1.1–7.9).
A high prevalence of syringe lending was observed among self-reported HIV-positive PWID in Bangkok, which was associated with high intensity drug use, polysubstance use, and frequently injecting with others. It is particularly concerning that individuals who lent syringes were more likely to be untreated for HIV disease given the known benefits of antiretroviral provision on the prevention of HIV transmission. These findings underscore the need to expand access to sterile syringes and HIV treatment among HIV-positive PWID in Thailand.
PMCID: PMC4456057  PMID: 26032673
HIV; Injection drug use; People who inject drugs; Syringe lending; Syringe sharing; Bangkok; Thailand; Polysubstance use; Harm reduction; Antiretroviral
Transitions into more harmful forms of illicit drug use among youth have been identified as important foci for research and intervention. In settings around the world, the transition to crystal methamphetamine (meth) use among youth is considered a particularly dangerous and growing problem. Epidemiological evidence suggests that, particularly among young, street-involved populations, meth use is associated with numerous sex- and drug-related “risks behaviors” and negative health outcomes. Relatively few studies, however, have documented how youth themselves understand, experience and script meth use over time. From 2008 to 2012, we conducted over 100 in-depth interviews with 75 street-entrenched youth in Vancouver, Canada, as well as ongoing ethnographic fieldwork, in order to examine youth's understandings and experiences of meth use in the context of an urban drug scene. Our findings revealed positive understandings and experiences of meth in relation to other forms of drug addiction and unaddressed mental health issues. Youth were simultaneously aware of the numerous health-related harms and social costs associated with heavy meth use. Over time, positive understandings of meth may become entirely contradictory to a lived reality in which escalating meth use is a factor in further marginalizing youth, although this may not lead to cessation of use. Recognition of these multiple truths about meth, and the social structural contexts that shape the scripting of meth use among youth in particular settings, may help us to move beyond moralizing debates about how to best educate youth on the “risks” associated with meth, and towards interventions that are congruent with youth’s lived experiences and needs across the lifecourse.
PMCID: PMC4090004  PMID: 24721446
Canada; youth; crystal methamphetamine; drug scene; qualitative research; ethnography
9.  A qualitative study of transgender individuals’ experiences in residential addiction treatment settings: stigma and inclusivity 
While considerable research has been undertaken on addiction treatment, the experiences of transgender individuals who use drugs are rarely explored in such research, as too often transgender individuals are excluded entirely or grouped with those of sexual minority groups. Consequently, little is known about the treatment experiences in this population. Thus, we sought to qualitatively investigate the residential addiction treatment experiences of transgender individuals who use illicit drugs in a Canadian setting.
In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 34 transgender individuals in Vancouver, Canada between June 2012 and May 2013. Participants were recruited from three open prospective cohorts of individuals who use drugs and an open prospective cohort of sex workers. Theory-driven and data-driven approaches were used to analyze the data and two transgender researcher assistants aided with the coding and the interpretation of data in a process called participatory analysis.
Fourteen participants had previous experience of addiction treatment and their experiences varied according to whether their gender identity was accepted in the treatment programs. Three themes emerged from the data that characterized individuals’ experiences in treatment settings: (1) enacted stigma in the forms of social rejection and violence, (2) transphobia and felt stigma, and (3) “trans friendly” and inclusive treatment. Participants who reported felt and enacted stigma, including violence, left treatment prematurely after isolation and conflicts. In contrast, participants who felt included and respected in treatment settings reported positive treatment experiences.
The study findings demonstrate the importance of fostering respect and inclusivity of gender diverse individuals in residential treatment settings. These findings illustrate the need for gender-based, anti-stigma policies and programs to be established within existing addiction treatment programs. Additionally, it is vital to establish transgender and/or LGBTQ specific treatment programs as recommended by the participants in this study.
PMCID: PMC4432520  PMID: 25948286
Transgender; Treatment; Enacted stigma; Felt stigma; Inclusion; Indigenous; Drug use
10.  Compulsory drug detention exposure is associated with not receiving antiretroviral treatment among people who inject drugs in Bangkok, Thailand: a cross-sectional study 
Thailand has experienced a longstanding epidemic of HIV among people who inject drugs (PWID). However, antiretroviral treatment (ART) coverage among HIV-positive PWID has historically remained low. While ongoing drug law enforcement involving periodic police crackdowns is known to increase the risk of HIV transmission among Thai PWID, the impact of such drug policy approaches on the ART uptake has been understudied. Therefore, we sought to identify factors associated with not receiving ART among HIV-positive PWID in Bangkok, Thailand, with a focus on factors pertaining to drug law enforcement.
Data were collected from a community-recruited sample of HIV-positive PWID in Bangkok who participated in the Mitsampan Community Research Project between June 2009 and October 2011. We identified factors associated with not receiving ART at the time of interview using multivariate logistic regression.
In total, 128 HIV-positive PWID participated in this study, with 58 (45.3%) reporting not receiving ART at the time of interview. In multivariate analyses, completing less than secondary education (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]: 3.32 ; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.48 – 7.45), daily midazolam injection (AOR: 3.22, 95% CI: 1.45 – 7.15) and exposure to compulsory drug detention (AOR: 3.36, 95% CI: 1.01 – 11.21) were independently and positively associated with not receiving ART. Accessing peer-based healthcare information or support services was independently and positively associated with receiving ART (AOR: 0.21, 95% CI: 0.05 – 0.84).
Approximately half of our study group of HIV-positive PWID reported not receiving ART at the time of interview. Daily midazolam injectors, those with lower education attainment, and individuals who had been in compulsory drug detention were more likely to be non-recipients of ART whereas those who accessed peer-based healthcare-related services were more likely to receive ART. These findings suggest a potentially adverse impact of compulsory drug detention and highlight the need to expand interventions to facilitate access to ART among HIV-positive PWID in this setting.
PMCID: PMC4435625  PMID: 25943881
ART; Injection drug use; Compulsory drug detention; Peer-based intervention; Thailand
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is home to Canada’s largest street-based drug scene and only supervised injection facility (Insite). High levels of violence among men and women have been documented in this neighbourhood. This study was undertaken to explore the role of violence in shaping the socio-spatial relations of women and ‘marginal men’ (i.e., those occupying subordinate positions within the drug scene) in the Downtown Eastside, including access to Insite.
Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 23 people who inject drugs (PWID) recruited through the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, a local drug user organization. Interviews included a mapping exercise. Interview transcripts and maps were analyzed thematically, with an emphasis on how gendered violence shaped participants’ spatial practices.
Hegemonic forms of masculinity operating within the Downtown Eastside framed the everyday violence experienced by women and marginal men. This violence shaped the spatial practices of women and marginal men, in that they avoided drug scene milieus where they had experienced violence or that they perceived to be dangerous. Some men linked their spatial restrictions to the perceived 'dope quality' of neighbourhood drug dealers to maintain claims to dominant masculinities while enacting spatial strategies to promote safety. Environmental supports provided by health and social care agencies were critical in enabling women and marginal men to negotiate place and survival within the context of drug scene violence. Access to Insite did not motivate participants to enter into “dangerous” drug scene milieus but they did venture into these areas if necessary to obtain drugs or generate income.
Gendered violence is critical in restricting the geographies of men and marginal men within the street-based drug scene. There is a need to scale up existing environmental interventions, including supervised injection services, to minimize violence and potential drug-related risks among these highly-vulnerable PWID.
PMCID: PMC4031309  PMID: 24332972
Injection drug use; gender; violence; masculinity; supervised injection facilities; qualitative; social geography
12.  High levels of opioid analgesic co-prescription among methadone maintenance treatment clients in British Columbia, Canada: Results from a population-level retrospective cohort study 
Background and Objectives
The nonmedical use of prescription opioids (PO) has increased dramatically in North America. Special consideration for PO prescription is required for individuals in methadone maintenance treatment (MMT). Our objective is to describe the prevalence and correlates of PO use among British Columbia (BC) MMT clients from 1996-2007.
This study was based on a linked, population-level medication dispensation database. All individuals receiving 30 days of continuous MMT for opioid dependence were included in the study. Key measurements included the proportion of clients receiving >7 days of a PO other than methadone during MMT from 1996 to 2007. Factors independently associated with PO co-prescription during MMT were assessed using generalized linear mixed effects regression.
16,248 individuals with 27,919 MMT episodes at least 30 days in duration were identified for the study period. Among them, 5,552 individuals (34.2%) received a total of 290,543 PO co-prescriptions during MMT. The majority (74.3%) of all PO dispensations >7 days originated from non-MMT physicians. The number of PO prescriptions per person-year nearly doubled between 1996 and 2006, driven by increases in morphine, hydromorphone and oxycodone dispensations. PO co-prescription was positively associated with female gender, older age, higher levels of medical co-morbidity as well as higher MMT dosage, adherence, and retention.
Conclusion and Scientific Significance
A large proportion of MMT clients in BC received co-occurring PO prescriptions, often from physicians and pharmacies not delivering MMT. Experimental evidence for the treatment of pain in MMT clients is required to guide clinical practice.
PMCID: PMC4033518  PMID: 24724883
13.  Income Level and Drug Related Harm among People Who Use Injection Drugs in a Canadian Setting 
Higher income is generally associated with better health outcomes; however, among people who inject drugs (IDU) income generation frequently involves activities, such as sex work and drug dealing, which pose significant health risks. Therefore, we sought to examine the relationship between level of income and specific drug use patterns and related health risks.
This study involved IDU participating in a prospective cohort study in Vancouver, Canada. Monthly income was categorized based on non-fixed quartiles at each follow-up with the lowest level serving as the reference category in generalized linear mixed-effects regression.
Among our sample of 1,032 IDU, the median average monthly income over the study follow-up was $1050 [Interquartile range=785–2000]. In multivariate analysis, the highest income category was significantly associated with sex work (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR]=7.65), drug dealing (AOR=5.06), daily heroin injection (AOR=2.97), daily cocaine injection (AOR=1.65), daily crack smoking (AOR=2.48), binge drug use (AOR=1.57) and unstable housing (AOR=1.67). The high income category was negatively associated with being female (AOR=0.61) and accessing addiction treatment (AOR=0.64), (all p < 0.05). In addition, higher income was strongly associated with higher monthly expenditure on drugs (>$400) (OR=97.8).
Among IDU in Vancouver, average monthly income levels were low and higher total monthly income was linked to high-risk income generation strategies as well as a range of drug use patterns characteristic of higher intensity addiction and HIV risk. These findings underscore the need for interventions that provide economic empowerment and address high intensity addiction, especially for female IDU.
PMCID: PMC4040344  PMID: 24380808
Canada; Injection drug use; Income generation; Sex work; Drug dealing
14.  Drug use patterns associated with risk of non-adherence to antiretroviral therapy among HIV-positive illicit drug users in a Canadian setting: a longitudinal analysis 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2015;15:193.
Among people living with HIV/AIDS, illicit drug use is a risk for sub-optimal treatment outcomes. However, few studies have examined the relative contributions of different patterns of drug use on adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART). We sought to estimate the effect of different types of illicit drug use on adherence in a setting of universal free HIV/AIDS treatment and care.
Using data from ongoing prospective cohorts of HIV-positive illicit drug users linked to comprehensive pharmacy dispensation records in Vancouver, Canada, we examined factors associated with ≥95% prescription refill adherence using generalized estimating equations (GEE) logistic regression.
Between 1996 and 2013, 692 ART-exposed individuals were followed for a median of 42.7 months (Interquartile Range: 29.1–71.7). In multivariable GEE analyses, heroin injection (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR] = 0.75, 95% Confidence Interval [CI]: 0.66–0.85) as well as cocaine injection (AOR = 0.80, 95% CI: 0.72–0.90) were associated with lower likelihoods of optimal adherence. Methadone maintenance therapy (AOR = 1.88, 95% CI: 1.68–2.11) was associated with a greater likelihood of adherence.
Periods of heroin and cocaine injection appeared to have the most deleterious impact upon antiretroviral adherence. The findings point to the need for improved access to treatment for heroin use disorder, particularly methadone, and highlight the need to identify strategies to support ART adherence among cocaine injectors.
PMCID: PMC4411762  PMID: 25927573
HIV; Antiretroviral therapy; Illicit drug use; Heroin; Cocaine; Adherence
AIDS care  2013;26(4):459-465.
Food insecurity may be a barrier to achieving optimal HIV treatment-related outcomes among illicit drug users. This study therefore, aimed to assess the impact of severe food insecurity, or hunger, on plasma HIV RNA suppression among illicit drug users receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART). A cross-sectional Multivariate logistic regression model was used to assess the potential relationship between hunger and plasma HIV RNA suppression. A sample of n = 406 adults was derived from a community-recruited open prospective cohort of HIV-positive illicit drug users, in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), Canada. A total of 235 (63.7%) reported “being hungry and unable to afford enough food,” and 241 (59.4%) had plasma HIV RNA < 50 copies/ml. In unadjusted analyses, self-reported hunger was associated with lower odds of plasma HIV RNA suppression (Odds Ratio = 0.59, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.39–0.90, p = 0.015). In multivariate analyses, this association was no longer significant after controlling for socio-demographic, behavioral, and clinical characteristics, including 95% adherence (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR] = 0.65, 95% CI: 0.37–1.10, p = 0.105). Multivariate models stratified by 95% adherence found that the direction and magnitude of this association was not significantly altered by the adherence level. Hunger was common among illicit drug users in this setting. Although, there was an association between hunger and lower likelihood of plasma HIV RNA suppression, this did not persist in adjusted analyses. Further research is warranted to understand the social-structural, policy, and physical factors shaping the HIV outcomes of illicit drug users.
PMCID: PMC4064571  PMID: 24015838
HIV; antiretroviral therapy; plasma viral load suppression; food security; hunger; adherence
16.  “People Knew They Could Come Here to Get Help”: An Ethnographic Study of Assisted Injection Practices at a Peer-Run ‘Unsanctioned’ Supervised Drug Consumption Room in a Canadian Setting 
AIDS and behavior  2014;18(3):473-485.
People who require help injecting are disproportionately vulnerable to drug-related harm, including HIV transmission. North America’s only sanctioned SIF operates in Vancouver, Canada under an exemption to federal drug laws, which imposes operating regulations prohibiting assisted injections. In response, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) launched a peer-run unsanctioned SIF in which trained peer volunteers provide assisted injections to increase the coverage of supervised injection services and minimize drug-related harm. We undertook qualitative interviews (n=23) and ethnographic observation (50 hours) to explore how this facility shaped assisted injection practices. Findings indicated that VANDU reshaped the social, structural, and spatial contexts of assisted injection practices in a manner that minimized HIV and other health risks, while allowing people who require help injecting to escape drug scene violence. Findings underscore the need for changes to regulatory frameworks governing SIFs to ensure that they accommodate people who require help injecting.
PMCID: PMC3815969  PMID: 23797831
Drug users; harm reduction; HIV risk behaviors; supervised injecting facilities; peer-based interventions; risk environments; ethnography
17.  Institutional Ethical Review and Ethnographic Research Involving Injection Drug Users: A Case Study 
Ethnographic research among people who inject drugs (PWID) involves complex ethical issues. While ethical review frameworks have been critiqued by social scientists, there is a lack of social science research examining institutional ethical review processes, particularly in relation to ethnographic work. This case study describes the institutional ethical review of an ethnographic research project using observational fieldwork and in-depth interviews to examine injection drug use. The review process and the salient concerns of the review committee are recounted, and the investigators’ responses to the committee’s concerns and requests are described to illustrate how key issues were resolved. The review committee expressed concerns regarding researcher safety when conducting fieldwork and the investigators were asked to liaise with the police regarding the proposed research. An ongoing dialogue with the institutional review committee regarding researcher safety and autonomy from police involvement, as well as formal consultation with a local drug user group and solicitation of opinions from external experts, helped to resolve these issues. This case study suggests that ethical review processes can be particularly challenging for ethnographic projects focused on illegal behaviours, and that while some challenges could be mediated by modifying existing ethical review procedures, there is a need for legislation that provides legal protection of research data and participant confidentiality.
PMCID: PMC3951263  PMID: 24581074
Canada, research ethics; ethnographic research; injection drug use; IDUs; case study
18.  Hospitals as a `risk environment: An ethno-epidemiological study of voluntary and involuntary discharge from hospital against medical advice among people who inject drugs 
People who inject drugs (PWID) experience high levels of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C (HCV) infection that, together with injection-related complications such as non-fatal overdose and injection-related infections, lead to frequent hospitalizations. However, injection drug-using populations are among those most likely to be discharged from hospital against medical advice, which significantly increases their likelihood of hospital readmission, longer overall hospital stays, and death. In spite of this, little research has been undertaken examining how social-structural forces operating within hospital settings shape the experiences of PWID in receiving care in hospitals and contribute to discharges against medical advice. This ethno-epidemiological study was undertaken in Vancouver, Canada to explore how the social-structural dynamics within hospitals function to produce discharges against medical advice among PWID. In-depth interviews were conducted with thirty PWID recruited from among participants in ongoing observational cohort studies of people who inject drugs who reported that they had been discharged from hospital against medical advice within the previous two years. Data were analyzed thematically, and by drawing on the `Risk Environment' framework and concepts of social violence. Our findings illustrate how intersecting social and structural factors led to inadequate pain and withdrawal management, which led to continued drug use in hospital settings. In turn, diverse forms of social control operating to regulate and prevent drug use in hospital settings amplified drug-related risks and increased the likelihood of discharge against medical advice. Given the significant morbidity and health care costs associated with discharge against medical advice among drug-using populations, there is an urgent need to reshape the social-structural contexts of hospital care for PWID by shifting emphasis toward evidence-based pain and drug treatment augmented by harm reduction supports, including supervised drug consumption services.
PMCID: PMC3951660  PMID: 24508718
19.  Incarceration Among Street-Involved Youth in a Canadian Study: Implications for Health and Policy Interventions 
Risk factors for incarceration have been well described among adult drug using populations; however, less is known about incarceration among at-risk youth. This study examines the prevalence and correlates of incarceration among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting.
From September 2005 to May 2012, data were collected from the At-Risk Youth Study, a prospective cohort of street-involved youth aged 14 – 26 who use illicit drugs. Generalized estimating equation (GEE) logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with recent incarceration defined as incarceration in the previous six months.
Among 1019 participants, 362 (36%) reported having been recently incarcerated during the study period. In multivariate GEE analysis, homelessness (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]= 1.60), daily crystal methamphetamine use (AOR= 1.56), public injecting (AOR= 1.33), drug dealing (AOR= 1.48) and being a victim of violence (AOR= 1.68) were independently associated with incarceration (all p <0.05). Conversely, female gender (AOR= 0.48), lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or two-spirited (LGBTT) identification (AOR= 0.47) and increasing age of first hard drug use (AOR= 0.96) were negatively associated with incarceration (all p <0.05).
Incarceration was common among our study sample. Youth who were homeless, used crystal methamphetamine, and engaged in risky behaviors including public injection and drug dealing were significantly more likely to have been recently incarcerated. Structural interventions including expanding addiction treatment and supportive housing for at-risk youth may help reduce criminal justice involvement among this population and associated health, social and fiscal costs.
PMCID: PMC3961537  PMID: 24405564
street youth; incarceration; drug use; homeless
20.  Denial of pain medication by health care providers predicts in-hospital illicit drug use among individuals who use illicit drugs 
People who use illicit drugs are at risk for related health complications, and may rely more heavily on emergency departments and acute care centres for their health care needs. Health care workers may be hesitant to prescribe pain medication to these individuals due to fear of addiction and suspicion of drug-seeking behaviour. Accordingly, the aim of this study was to assess the relationship between having ever been denied pain medication and having reported using illicit drugs in a Vancouver (British Columbia) cohort of illicit drug users.
Undertreated pain is common among people who use illicit drugs (PWUD), and can often reflect the reluctance of health care providers to provide pain medication to individuals with substance use disorders.
To investigate the relationship between having ever been denied pain medication by a health care provider and having ever reported using illicit drugs in hospital.
Data were derived from participants enrolled in two Canadian prospective cohort studies between December 2012 and May 2013. Using bivariable and multivariable logistic regression analyses, the relationship between having ever been denied pain medication by a health care provider and having ever reported using illicit drugs in hospital was examined.
Among 1053 PWUD who had experienced ≥1 hospitalization, 452 (44%) reported having ever used illicit drugs while in hospital and 491 (48%) reported having ever been denied pain medication. In a multivariable model adjusted for confounders, having been denied pain medication was positively associated with having used illicit drugs in hospital (adjusted OR 1.46 [95% CI 1.14 to 1.88]).
The results of the present study suggest that the denial of pain medication is associated with the use of illicit drugs while hospitalized. These findings raise questions about how to appropriately manage addiction and pain among PWUD and indicate the potential role that harm reduction programs may play in hospital settings.
PMCID: PMC4391443  PMID: 25562839
Addiction; Canada; Drug use; Health services; Pain management
21.  Impact of unstable housing on all-cause mortality among persons who inject drugs 
BMC Public Health  2015;15:106.
Illicit drug injecting is a well-established risk factor for morbidity and mortality. However, a limited number of prospective studies have examined the independent effect of unstable housing on mortality among persons who inject drugs (PWIDs). In this study we sought to identify if a relationship exists between unstable housing and all-cause mortality among PWIDs living in Vancouver, Canada.
PWIDs participating in two prospective cohort studies in Vancouver, Canada were followed between May 1996 and December 2012. Cohort data were linked to the provincial vital statistics database to ascertain mortality rates and causes of death. We used multivariate Cox proportional hazards regression to determine factors associated with all-cause mortality and to investigate the independent relationship between unstable housing and time to all-cause mortality.
During the study period, 2453 individuals were followed for a median of 69 months (Inter-quartile range [IQR]: 34 – 113). In total, there were 515 (21.0%) deaths for an incidence density of 3.1 (95% Confidence Interval [CI]: 2.8 – 3.4) deaths per 100 person years. In multivariate analyses, after adjusting for potential confounders including HIV infection and drug use patterns, unstable housing remained independently associated with all-cause mortality (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR] = 1.30, 95% CI: 1.08 – 1.56).
These findings demonstrate that unstable housing is an important risk factor for mortality independent of known risk factors including HIV infection and patterns of drug use. This study highlights the urgent need to provide supportive housing interventions to address elevated levels of preventable mortality among this population.
PMCID: PMC4389703  PMID: 25884182
Unstable housing; Injection drug use; Mortality
22.  Crystal methamphetamine initiation among street-involved youth 
Although many settings have recently documented a substantial increase in the use of methamphetamine-type stimulants, recent reviews have underscored the dearth of prospective studies that have examined risk factors associated with the initiation of crystal methamphetamine use.
Our objectives were to examine rates and risk factors for the initiation of crystal methamphetamine use in a cohort of street-involved youth.
Street-involved youth in Vancouver, Canada, were enrolled in a prospective cohort known as the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS). A total of 205 crystal methamphetamine-naïve participants were assessed semi-annually and Cox regression analyses were used to identify factors independently associated with the initiation of crystal methamphetamine use.
Among 205 youth prospectively followed from 2005 to 2012, the incidence density of crystal methamphetamine initiation was 12.2 per 100 person years. In Cox regression analyses, initiation of crystal methamphetamine use was independently associated with previous crack cocaine use (adjusted relative hazard [ARH] = 2.24 [95% CI: 1.20–4.20]) and recent drug dealing (ARH = 1.98 [95% CI: 1.05–3.71]). Those initiating methamphetamine were also more likely to report a recent nonfatal overdose (ARH = 3.63 [95% CI: 1.65–7.98]) and to be male (ARH = 2.12 [95% CI: 1.06–4.25]).
We identified high rates of crystal methamphetamine initiation among this population. Males those involved in the drug trade, and those who used crack cocaine were more likely to initiate crystal methamphetamine use. Evidence-based strategies to prevent and treat crystal methamphetamine use are urgently needed.
PMCID: PMC3934747  PMID: 24191637
Crystal methamphetamine; social harm; youth
Given the link between employment and mortality in the general population, we sought to assess this relationship among HIV-positive people who use illicit drugs in Vancouver, Canada.
Data were derived from a prospective cohort study of HIV seropositive people who use illicit drugs (n=666) during the period of May 1996–June 2010 linked to comprehensive clinical data in Vancouver, Canada, a setting where HIV care is delivered without charge. We estimated the relationship between employment and mortality using proportional hazards survival analysis, adjusting for relevant behavioural, clinical, social and socioeconomic factors.
In a multivariate survival model, a time-updated measure of full time, temporary or self-employment compared with no employment was significantly associated with a lower risk of death (adjusted HR=0.44, 95% CI 0.22 to 0.91). Results were robust to adjustment for relevant confounders, including age, injection and non-injection drug use, plasma viral load and baseline CD4 T-cell count.
These findings suggest that employment may be an important dimension of mortality risk of HIV-seropositive illicit drug users. The potentially health-promoting impacts of labour market involvement warrant further exploration given the widespread barriers to employment and persistently elevated levels of preventable mortality among this highly marginalised population.
PMCID: PMC4060796  PMID: 24153247
24.  The Effect of History of Injection Drug Use and Alcoholism on HIV Disease Progression 
AIDS care  2013;26(1):10.1080/09540121.2013.804900.
The effectiveness of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in preventing disease progression can be negatively influenced by the high prevalence of substance use among patients. Here, we quantify the effect of history of injection drug use and alcoholism on virologic and immunologic response to HAART. Clinical and survey data, collected at the start of HAART and at the interview date, were based on the study Longitudinal Investigations into Supportive and Ancillary Health Services (LISA) in British Columbia, Canada. Substance use was a three-level categorical variable, combining information on history of alcohol dependence and of injection drug use, defined as: no history of alcohol and injection drug use, history of alcohol or injection drug use and history of both alcohol and injection drug use. Virologic response (pVL) was defined by ≥2 log10 copy/mL drop in viral load. Immunologic response was defined as an increase in CD4 cell count percent of ≥100%. We used cumulative logit modeling for ordinal responses to address our objective. Of the 537 HIV-infected patients, 112 (21%) were characterized as having history of both alcohol and injection drug use, 173 (32%) were non adherent (<95%), 196 (36%) had CD4+/pVL+ (Best) response, 180 (34%) a CD4+/pVL− or a CD4−/pVL+ (Incomplete) response, and 161 (30%) a CD4−/pVL− (Worst) response. For individuals with history of both alcohol and injection drug use, the estimated probability of of Best, Incomplete and Worse responses, respectively. Screening and detection of substance dependence will identify individuals at high-risk for non-adherence and ideally prevent their HIV disease from progressing to advanced stages where HIV disease can become difficult to manage.
PMCID: PMC3795995  PMID: 23767757
Alcohol; Injection drug use; Adherence; HAART; HIV; Disease progression
25.  Risk Factors for Progression to Regular Injection Drug Use among Street-Involved Youth in a Canadian Setting 
Drug and alcohol dependence  2013;133(2):10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2013.07.008.
Street-involved youth are at high risk for experimenting with injection drug use; however, little attention has been given to identifying the factors that predict progression to on-going injecting.
Logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with progression to injecting weekly on a regular basis among a Canadian cohort of street-involved youth.
Among our sample of 405 youth who had initiated injecting at baseline or during study observation, the median age was 22 years (interquartile range [IQR] = 21 – 24), and 72% (293) reported becoming a regular injector at some point after their first injection experience. Of these, the majority (n=186, 63%) reported doing so within a month of initiating injection drug use. In multivariate analysis, the drug used at the first injection initiation event (opiates vs. cocaine vs. methamphetamine vs. other; all p > 0.05) was not associated with progression; however, younger age at first injection (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] =1.13), a history of childhood physical abuse (AOR =1.81), prior regular use of the drug first injected (AOR =1.77), and having a sexual partner present at the first injection event (AOR =2.65) independently predicted progression to regular injecting.
These data highlight how quickly youth progress to become regular injectors after experimentation. Findings indicate that addressing childhood trauma and interventions such as evidence-based youth focused addiction treatment that could prevent or delay regular non-injection drug use, may reduce progression to regular injection drug use among this population.
PMCID: PMC3818386  PMID: 23910434
injection drug use; injection initiation; street-involved youth; injection prevention; physical abuse

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