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1.  Occupational Stigma as a Primary Barrier To Health Care For Street-Based Sex Workers in Canada 
Culture, health & sexuality  2011;14(2):139-150.
Individuals working in the sex industry continue to experience many negative health outcomes. As such, disentangling the factors shaping poor health access remains a critical public health priority. Within a quasi-criminalised prostitution environment, this study aimed to evaluate the prevalence of occupational stigma associated with sex work and its relationship to barriers to accessing health services. Analyses draw on baseline questionnaire data from a community-based cohort of women in street-based sex work in Vancouver, Canada (2006–8). Of a total of 252 women, 141 (58.5%) reported occupational sex work stigma (defined as hiding occupational sex work status from family, friends and/or home community), while 125 (49.6%) reported barriers to accessing health services in the previous six months. In multivariable analysis, adjusting for socio-demographic, interpersonal and work environment risks, occupational sex work stigma remained independently associated with an elevated likelihood of experiencing barriers to health access. Study findings indicate the critical need for policy and societal shifts in views of sex work as a legitimate occupation, combined with improved access to innovative, accessible and non-judgmental health care delivery models for street-based sex workers that include the direct involvement of sex workers in development and implementation.
PMCID: PMC3359131  PMID: 22084992
Sex work; occupational stigma; barriers to health care; policy
2.  A dose-response relationship between exposure to a large-scale HIV preventive intervention and consistent condom use with different sexual partners of female sex workers in southern India 
BMC Public Health  2011;11(Suppl 6):S8.
The Avahan Initiative, a large-scale HIV preventive intervention targeted to high-risk populations including female sex workers (FSWs), was initiated in 2003 in six high-prevalence states in India, including Karnataka. This study assessed if intervention exposure was associated with condom use with FSWs’ sexual partners, including a dose-response relationship.
Data were from a cross-sectional study (2006-07) of 775 FSWs in three districts in Karnataka. Survey methods accounted for the complex cluster sampling design. Bivariate and multivariable logistic regression was used to separately model the relationships between each of five intervention exposure variables and five outcomes for consistent condom use (CCU= always versus frequently/sometimes/never) with different sex partners, including with: all clients; occasional clients; most recent repeat client; most recent non-paying partner; and the husband or cohabiting partner. Linear tests for trends were conducted for three continuous intervention exposure variables.
FSWs reported highest CCU with all clients (81.7%); CCU was lowest with FSWs’ husband or cohabiting partner (9.6%). In multivariable analysis, the odds of CCU with all clients and with occasional clients were 6.3-fold [95% confidence intervals, CIs: 2.8-14.5] and 2.3-fold [95% CIs: 1.4-4.1] higher among FSWs contacted by intervention staff and 4.9-fold [95% CIs: 2.6-9.3] and 2.3-fold [95% CIs: 1.3-4.1] higher among those who ever observed a condom demonstration by staff, respectively, compared to those who had not. A significant dose-response relationship existed between each of these CCU outcomes and increased duration since first contacted by staff (P=0.001; P=0.006) and numbers of condom demonstrations witnessed (P=0.004; P=0.026); a dose-response relationship was also observed between condom use with all clients and number of times contacted by staff (P=0.047). Intervention exposure was not associated with higher odds of CCU with the most recent repeat client, most recent non-paying partner or with the husband or cohabiting partner.
Study findings suggest that exposure to a large-scale HIV intervention for FSWs was associated with increased CCU with commercial clients. Moreover, there were dose-response relationships between CCU with clients and increased duration since first contacted by staff, times contacted by staff and number of condom demonstrations. Additional program effort is required to increase condom use with non-commercial partners.
PMCID: PMC3287561  PMID: 22375863
3.  Challenges in initiating antiretroviral therapy in 2010 
Many clinical trials have shown that initiating antiretroviral therapy (ART) at higher rather than lower CD4 T cell-positive counts results in survival benefit. Early treatment can help prevent end-organ damage associated with HIV replication and can decrease infectivity. The mainstay of treatment is either a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor or a ritonavir-boosted protease inhibitor in combination with two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors. While effective at combating HIV, ART can produce adverse alterations of lipid parameters, with some studies suggesting a relationship between some anti-retroviral agents and cardiovascular disease. As the HIV-positive population ages, issues such as hypertension and diabetes must be taken into account when initiating ART. Adhering to ART can be difficult; however, nonoptimal adherence to ART can result in the development of resistance; thus, drug characteristics and the patient’s preparedness to begin therapy must be considered. Reducing the pill burden through the use of fixed-dose antiretroviral drug combinations can facilitate adherence.
PMCID: PMC3555474  PMID: 23365594
Antiretroviral therapy; CD4 cell count; Complications of treatment; HIV infection; Patient readiness; When to start treatments
4.  Determinants of hospitalization for a cutaneous injection-related infection among injection drug users: a cohort study 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:327.
Cutaneous injection-related infections (CIRI) are a primary reason individuals who inject drugs (IDU) are hospitalized. The objective of this study was to investigate determinants of hospitalization for a CIRI or related infectious complication among a cohort of supervised injection facility (SIF) users.
From 1 January 1 2004 until 31 January 2008, using Cox proportional hazard regression, we examined determinants of hospitalization for a CIRI or related infectious complication (based on ICD 10 codes) among 1083 IDU recruited from within the SIF. Length of stay in hospital and cost estimates, based on a fully-allocated costing model, was also evaluated.
Among hospital admissions, 49% were due to a CIRI or related infectious complication. The incidence density for hospitalization for a CIRI or related infectious complication was 6.07 per 100 person-years (95% confidence intervals [CI]: 4.96 - 7.36). In the adjusted Cox proportional hazard model, being HIV positive (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR] = 1.79 [95% CI: 1.17 - 2.76]) and being referred to the hospital by a nurse at the SIF (AHR = 5.49 [95% CI: 3.48 - 8.67]) were associated with increased hospitalization. Length of stay in hospital was significantly shorter among participants referred to the hospital by a nurse at the SIF when compared to those who were not referred (4 days [interquartile range {IQR}: 2-7] versus 12 days [IQR: 5-33]) even after adjustment for confounders (p = 0.001).
A strong predictor of hospitalization for a CIRI or related infectious complication was being referred to the hospital by a nurse from the SIF. This finding indicates that nurses not only facilitate hospital utilization but may provide early intervention that prevents lengthy and expensive hospital visits for a CIRI or related infectious complication.
PMCID: PMC2890691  PMID: 20534148
5.  Unstable housing and hepatitis C incidence among injection drug users in a Canadian setting 
BMC Public Health  2009;9:270.
There has emerged growing recognition of the link between housing and health. Since Vancouver, Canada has had increasing concerns with homelessness brought about by urban renewal in the lead-up to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, we evaluated hepatitis C virus (HCV) incidence among injection drug users (IDU) with and without stable housing.
Data were derived from a collaboration between two prospective cohort studies of IDU in Vancouver, Canada. Using Cox Proportional Hazards regression, we compared HCV incidence among participants with and without stable housing, and determined independent predictors of HCV incidence.
Overall, 3074 individuals were recruited between May 1996 and July 2007, among whom 2541 (82.7%) were baseline HCV-infected. Among the 533 (17.3%) individuals who were not HCV-infected at baseline, 147 tested HCV antibody-positive during follow-up, for an incidence density of 16.89 (95% confidence interval: 14.76 – 19.32) per 100 person-years. In a multivariate Cox regression model, unstable housing remained independently associated with HCV infection (relative hazard = 1.47 (1.02 – 2.13).
HCV prevalence and incidence are high in this setting and were associated with unstable housing. Efforts to protect existing low-income housing and improve access to housing may help to reduce HCV incidence.
PMCID: PMC2728719  PMID: 19640297
6.  HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, British Columbia: a growing epidemic 
The prevalence of HIV in Vancouver, British Columbia was subject to two distinct periods of rapid increase. The first occurred in the 1980s due to high incidence among men who have sex with men (MSM), and the second occurred in the 1990s due to high incidence among injection drug users (IDU). The purpose of this study was to estimate and model the trends in HIV prevalence in Vancouver from 1980 to 2006. HIV prevalence data were entered into the UNAIDS/WHO Estimation and Projection Package (EPP) where prevalence trends were estimated by fitting an epidemiological model to the data. Epidemic curves were fit for IDU, MSM, street-based female sex trade workers (FSW), and the general population. Using EPP, these curves were then aggregated to produce a model of Vancouver's overall HIV prevalence. Of the 505 000 people over the age of 15 that reside in Vancouver, 6108 (ranging from 4979 to 7237) were living with HIV in the year 2006, giving an overall prevalence of 1.21 percent (ranging from 0.99 to 1.43 percent). The subgroups of IDU and MSM account for the greatest proportion of HIV infections. Our model estimates that the prevalence of HIV in Vancouver is greater than one percent, roughly 6 times higher than Canada's national prevalence. These results suggest that HIV infection is having a relatively large impact in Vancouver and that evidence-based prevention and harm reduction strategies should be expanded.
PMCID: PMC2662822  PMID: 19265531
7.  Risk factors for developing a cutaneous injection-related infection among injection drug users: a cohort study 
BMC Public Health  2008;8:405.
Cutaneous injection-related infections (CIRI), such as abscesses and cellulitis, are common and preventable among injection drug users (IDU). However, risk factors for CIRI have not been well described in the literature. We sought to characterize the risk factors for current CIRI among individuals who use North America's first supervised injection facility (SIF).
A longitudinal analysis of factors associated with developing a CIRI among participants enrolled in the Scientific Evaluation of Supervised Injecting (SEOSI) cohort between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2005 was conducted using generalized linear mixed-effects modelling.
In total, 1065 participants were eligible for this study. The proportion of participants with a CIRI remained under 10% during the study period. In a multivariate generalized linear mixed-effects model, female sex (Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR) = 1.68 [95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.16–2.43]), unstable housing (AOR = 1.49 [95% CI: 1.10–2.03]), borrowing a used syringe (AOR = 1.60 [95% CI: 1.03–2.48]), requiring help injecting (AOR = 1.42 [95% CI: 1.03–1.94]), and injecting cocaine daily (AOR = 1.41 [95% CI: 1.02–1.95]) were associated with an increased risk of having a CIRI.
CIRI were common among a subset of IDU in this study, including females, those injecting cocaine daily, living in unstable housing, requiring help injecting or borrowing syringes. In order to reduce the burden of morbidity associated with CIRI, targeted interventions that address a range of factors, including social and environmental conditions, are needed.
PMCID: PMC2621202  PMID: 19068133
8.  Preliminary development of a scale to measure stigma relating to sexually transmitted infections among women in a high risk neighbourhood 
BMC Women's Health  2008;8:21.
As stigma is a socially constructed concept, it would follow that stigma related to sexual behaviours and sexually transmitted infections would carry with it many of the gender-based morals that are entrenched in social constructs of sexuality. In many societies, women tend to be judged more harshly with respect to sexual morals, and would therefore have a different experience of stigma related to sexual behaviours as compared to men. While a variety of stigma scales exist for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in general; none incorporate these female-specific aspects. The objective of this study was to develop a scale to measure the unique experience of STI-related stigma among women.
A pool of items was identified from qualitative and quantitative literature on sexual behaviour and STIs among women. Women attending a social evening program at a local community health clinic in a low-income neighbourhood with high prevalence of substance use were passively recruited to take part in a cross-sectional structured interview, including questions on sexual behaviour, sexual health and STI-related stigma. Exploratory factor analysis was used to identify stigma scales, and descriptive statistics were used to assess the associations of demographics, sexual and drug-related risk behaviours with the emerging scales.
Three scales emerged from exploratory factor analysis – female-specific moral stigma, social stigma (judgement by others) and internal stigma (self-judgement) – with alpha co-efficients of 0.737, 0.705 and 0.729, respectively. In this population of women, internal stigma and social stigma carried higher scores than female-specific moral stigma. Aboriginal ethnicity was associated with higher internal and female-specific moral stigma scores, while older age (>30 years) was associated with higher female-specific moral stigma scores.
Descriptive statistics indicated an important influence of culture and age on specific types of stigma. Quantitative researchers examining STI-stigma should consider incorporating these female-specific factors in order to tailor scales for women.
PMCID: PMC2610028  PMID: 19021915
9.  Factors associated with spontaneous clearance of hepatitis C virus among illicit drug users 
Spontaneous clearance of hepatitis C virus (HCV) occurs in approximately 25% of individuals.
To better understand the characteristics associated with clearance, the present study evaluated HCV clearance in a community-based cohort study. The Community Health and Safety Evaluation project recruited 3553 individuals via community organizations and door-to-door canvassing of a random sample of single occupancy hotels in the community to monitor uptake of health services and to estimate the incidence of communicable infections. Cohort data were linked with longitudinal laboratory databases, including HCV antibody and polymerase chain reaction assay results.
Overall, 762 individuals had HCV antibody and RNA testing performed between 1999 and 2005. Spontaneous HCV clearance was observed in 179 individuals (23.5%), while HCV persistence was observed in 583 individuals (76.5%). The ability to develop protective immunity against HCV, as demonstrated by viral clearance, occurred more often in individuals of Aboriginal ethnicity (adjusted OR [AOR] 2.9, 95% CI 2.0 to 4.3; P<0.001) and female individuals (AOR 1.6, 95% CI 1.1 to 2.4; P=0.01). The rate of spontaneous HCV clearance was reduced in individuals using any type of illicit drugs (AOR 0.54, 95% CI 0.29 to 1.00; P=0.05) and those with HIV coinfection (AOR 0.58, 95% CI 0.38 to 0.88; P=0.01). Of 218 HIV-infected subjects, 48 of 51 (94%) in whom the order of HCV and HIV infection was established were infected with HCV a median of 2.4 years (range 0.2 to 10 years) before becoming infected with HIV.
Aboriginal ethnicity and female sex were associated with increased rates of HCV clearance, while HIV coinfection and illicit drug use were associated with increased HCV persistence.
PMCID: PMC2657966  PMID: 17637948
Aboriginal ethnicity; Female; Hepatitis C virus; HIV; Injection drug use
10.  Community-based HIV prevention research among substance-using women in survival sex work: The Maka Project Partnership 
Substance-using women who exchange sex for money, drugs or shelter as a means of basic subsistence (ie. survival sex) have remained largely at the periphery of HIV and harm reduction policies and services across Canadian cities. This is notwithstanding global evidence of the multiple harms faced by this population, including high rates of violence and poverty, and enhanced vulnerabilities to HIV transmission among women who smoke or inject drugs. In response, a participatory-action research project was developed in partnership with a local sex work agency to examine the HIV-related vulnerabilities, barriers to accessing care, and impact of current prevention and harm reduction strategies among women in survival sex work. This paper provides a brief background of the health and drug-related harms among substance-using women in survival sex work, and outlines the development and methodology of a community-based HIV prevention research project partnership. In doing so, we discuss some of the strengths and challenges of community-based HIV prevention research, as well as some key ethical considerations, in the context of street-level sex work in an urban setting.
PMCID: PMC2248179  PMID: 18067670
11.  Rate of methadone use among Aboriginal opioid injection drug users 
Previous studies have shown elevated rates of health-related harms among Aboriginal people who use injection drugs such as heroin. Methadone maintenance therapy is one of the most effective interventions to address the harms of heroin injection. We assessed the rate of methadone use in a cohort of opioid injection drug users in Vancouver and investigated whether methadone use was associated with Aboriginal ethnic background.
Using data collected as part of the Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study (May 1996–November 2005), we evaluated whether Aboriginal ethnic background was associated with methadone use using generalized estimating equations and Cox regression analysis. We compared methadone use among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal injection drug users at the time of enrolment and during the follow-up period, and we evaluated the time to first methadone use among people not using methadone at enrolment.
During the study period, 1603 injection drug users (435 Aboriginal, 1168 non-Aboriginal) were recruited. At enrolment, 54 (12.4%) Aboriginal participants used methadone compared with 247 (21.2%) non-Aboriginal participants (odds ratio [OR] 0.53, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.38–0.73, p < 0.001). Among the 1351 (84.3%) participants who used heroin, Aboriginal people were less likely to use methadone throughout the follow-up period (adjusted OR 0.60, 95% CI 0.45–0.81, p < 0.001). Among people using heroin but who were not taking methadone at enrolment, Aboriginal ethnic background was associated with increased time to first methadone use (adjusted relative hazard 0.60, 95% CI 0.49–0.74, p < 0.001).
Methadone use was lower among Aboriginal than among non-Aboriginal injection drug users. Culturally appropriate interventions with full participation of the affected community are required to address this disparity.
PMCID: PMC1896027  PMID: 17606937
12.  HIV seroprevalence among participants at a Supervised Injection Facility in Vancouver, Canada: implications for prevention, care and treatment 
North America's first government sanctioned medically supervised injection facility (SIF) was opened during September 2003 in Vancouver, Canada. This was in response to a large open public drug scene, high rates of HIV and hepatitis C transmission, fatal drug overdoses, and poor health outcomes among the city's injection drug users. Between December 2003 and April 2005, a representative sample of 1,035 SIF participants were enrolled in a prospective cohort that required completing an interviewer-administered questionnaire and providing a blood sample for HIV testing. HIV infection was detected in 170/1007 (17%) participants and was associated with Aboriginal ethnicity (adjusted Odds Ratio [aOR], 2.70, 95% Confidence Interval [95% CI], 1.84–3.97), a history of borrowing used needles/syringes (aOR, 2.0, 95% CI, 1.37–2.93), previous incarceration (aOR, 1.87, 95% CI, 1.11–3.14), and daily injection cocaine use (aOR, 1.42, 95% CI, 1.00–2.03). The SIF has attracted a large number of marginalized injection drug users and presents an excellent opportunity to enhance HIV prevention through education, the provision of sterile injecting equipment, and a supervised environment to self-inject. In addition, the SIF is an important point of contact for HIV positive individuals who may not be participating in HIV care and treatment.
PMCID: PMC1766348  PMID: 17176481
13.  Summary of findings from the evaluation of a pilot medically supervised safer injecting facility 
In many cities, infectious disease and overdose epidemics are occurring among illicit injection drug users (IDUs). To reduce these concerns, Vancouver opened a supervised safer injecting facility in September 2003. Within the facility, people inject pre-obtained illicit drugs under the supervision of medical staff. The program was granted a legal exemption by the Canadian government on the condition that a 3-year scientific evaluation of its impacts be conducted. In this review, we summarize the findings from evaluations in those 3 years, including characteristics of IDUs at the facility, public injection drug use and publicly discarded syringes, HIV risk behaviour, use of addiction treatment services and other community resources, and drug-related crime rates. Vancouver's safer injecting facility has been associated with an array of community and public health benefits without evidence of adverse impacts. These findings should be useful to other cities considering supervised injecting facilities and to governments considering regulating their use.
PMCID: PMC1635777  PMID: 17116909
14.  Access and utilization of HIV treatment and services among women sex workers in Vancouver’s downtown eastside 
Many HIV-infected women are not realizing the benefits of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) despite significant advancements in treatment. Women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) are highly marginalized and struggle with multiple morbidities, unstable housing, addiction, survival sex, and elevated risk of sexual and drug-related harms, including HIV infection. Although recent studies have identified the heightened risk of HIV infection among women engaged in sex work and injection drug use, the uptake of HIV care among this population has received little attention. The objectives of this study are to evaluate the needs of women engaged in survival sex work and to assess utilization and acceptance of HAART. During November 2003, a baseline needs assessment was conducted among 159 women through a low-threshold drop-in centre servicing street-level sex workers in Vancouver. Cross-sectional data were used to describe the sociodemographic characteristics, drug use patterns, HIV/hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing and status, and attitudes towards HAART. High rates of cocaine injection, heroin injection, and smokeable crack cocaine use reflect the vulnerable and chaotic nature of this population. Although preliminary findings suggest an overall high uptake of health and social services, there was limited attention to HIV care with only 9% of the women on HAART. Self-reported barriers to accessing treatment were largely attributed to misinformation and misconceptions about treatment. Given the acceptability of accessing HAART through community interventions and women specific services, this study highlights the potential to reach this highly marginalized group and provides valuable baseline information on a population that has remained largely outside consistent HIV care.
PMCID: PMC3456060  PMID: 15944404
Antiretroviral therapy; HIV/AIDS; Injection drug use; Women sex workers
15.  The prevalence and incidence of sexually transmitted infections in a prospective cohort of injection drug users in Vancouver, British Columbia 
While several studies have reported on sexual risk behaviours and the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among injection drug users (IDUs), there are fewer prospective studies that have been able to examine populations of IDUs with no history of STIs. Therefore, the authors examined prevalence, correlates and factors associated with time to first STI infection in a prospective cohort of IDUs in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The authors examined the prevalence and correlates of STIs among IDUs at the time of recruitment into a prospective cohort study. The authors also evaluated the cumulative rate of time to first STI among IDUs with no history of STIs at baseline using the Kaplan-Meier method, and modelled factors independently associated with first STI using Cox regression.
Between May 1996 and November 2003, 1560 individuals were recruited into the cohort; of these individuals, 745 reported a history of STI at baseline. Among the 815 who did not report an STI at baseline, 671 (82%) had at least one follow-up visit and were eligible for the analysis of time to first STI. After 36 months of follow-up, the cumulative rate of first STI was 8.2% for men and 15.9% for women (log-rank P<0.001), whereas the cumulative rate of first STI was 8.0% for IDUs who did not report sex trade involvement versus 19.8% for IDUs who reported sex trade involvement (log-rank P<0.001). In multivariate analyses, the risk of first STI remained independently associated with unprotected sex with regular partners (relative hazard=2.04, 95% CI 1.29 to 3.23; P=0.001) and unprotected sex with sex trade clients (relative hazard=2.36, 95% CI 1.46 to 3.82; P=0.005).
In the present study, the authors found that STIs were associated with both regular sex partnerships and sex trade involvement. These findings are of particular concern because both unprotected sex with regular partners and sex trade involvement is common among IDUs. Interventions to encourage condom use among IDUs, particularly those with regular sex partners and those involved in the sex trade, should be further developed.
PMCID: PMC2095031  PMID: 18159549
IDU; Prospective cohort; STI
16.  Potential uptake and correlates of willingness to use a supervised smoking facility for noninjection illicit drug use 
Many cities are experiencing infectious disease epidemics and substantial community harms as a result of illicit drug use. Although medically supervised smoking facilities (SSFs) remain untested in North America, local health officials in Vancouver are considering to prepare a submission to Health Canada for an exemption to open Canada’s first SSF for evaluation. Reluctance of health policymakers to initiate a pilot study of SSFs may be due in part to outstanding questions regarding the potential uptake and community impacts of the intervention. This study was conducted to evaluate the prevalence and correlates of willingness to use an SSF among illicit drug smokers who are enrolled in the Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study. Participants who reported actively smoking cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine who returned for follow-up between June 2002 and December 2002 were eligible for these analyses. Those who reported willingness to use an SSF were compared with those who were unwilling to use an SSF by using logistic regression analyses. Four hundred and forty-three participants were eligible for this study. Among respondents, 124 (27,99%) expressed willingness to attend an SSF. Variables that were independently associated with willingness to attend an SSF in multivariate analyses included sex-trade work (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=1.85), crack pipe sharing (AOR=2.24), and residing in the city’s HIV epicentre (AOR=1.64). We found that participants who demonstrated a willingness to attend an SSF were more likely to be involved in the sex trade and share crack pipes. Although the impact of SSFs in North America can only be quantified by scientific evaluation, these data indicate a potential for public health and community benefits if SSFs were to become available.
PMCID: PMC3456572  PMID: 15872188
Harm reduction; HCV; HIV; Supervised smoking facilitics
17.  A description of a peer-run supervised injection site for injection drug users 
Owing to the ongoing health crisis among injection drug users in Vancouver, Canada, there have been repeated calls for the establishment of supervised injection sites (SIS) since the early 1990s. In April 2003, a group of advocates and drug users opened an unsanctioned SIS in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The “327 SIS” operated for 184 days. During the operation of the SIS, volunteers supervised over 3,000 injections by a bigh-risk injection drug using population. The SIS provided a sterile environment for injection drug use without measured negative consequences and demonstrated the feasibility of a peer-driven low-threshold SIS.
PMCID: PMC3456578  PMID: 15872193
Peer-driven; Safer injection site; Vancouver
18.  Impact of a medically supervised safer injecting facility on drug dealing and other drug-related crime 
North America's first medically supervised safer injecting facility (SIF) recently opened in Vancouver, Canada. One of the concerns prior to the SIF's opening was that the facility might lead to a migration of drug activity and an increase in drug-related crime. Therefore, we examined crime rates in the neighborhood where the SIF is located in the year before versus the year after the SIF opened. No increases were seen with respect to drug trafficking (124 vs. 116) or assaults/robbery (174 vs. 180), although a decline in vehicle break-ins/vehicle theft was observed (302 vs. 227). The SIF was not associated with increased drug trafficking or crimes commonly linked to drug use.
PMCID: PMC1471778  PMID: 16722550
19.  Potential community and public health impacts of medically supervised safer smoking facilities for crack cocaine users 
There is growing evidence of the public health and community harms associated with crack cocaine smoking, particularly the risk of blood-borne transmission through non-parenteral routes. In response, community advocates and policy makers in Vancouver, Canada are calling for an exemption from Health Canada to pilot a medically supervised safer smoking facility (SSF) for non-injection drug users (NIDU). Current reluctance on the part of health authorities is likely due to the lack of existing evidence surrounding the extent of related harm and potential uptake of such a facility among NIDUs in this setting. In November 2004, a feasibility study was conducted among 437 crack cocaine smokers. Univariate analyses were conducted to determine associations with willingness to use a SSF and logistic regression was used to adjust for potentially confounding variables (p < 0.05). Variables found to be independently associated with willingness to use a SSF included recent injection drug use (OR = 1.72, 95% CI: 1.09–2.70), having equipment confiscated or broken by police (OR = 1.96, 95% CI: 1.24–2.85), crack bingeing (OR = 2.16, 95% CI: 1.39–3.12), smoking crack in public places (OR = 2.48, 95% CI: 1.65–3.27), borrowing crack pipes (OR = 2.50, 95% CI: 1.86–3.40), and burns/ inhaled brillo due to rushing smoke in public places (OR = 4.37, 95% CI: 2.71–8.64). The results suggest a strong potential for a SSF to reduce the health related harms and address concerns of public order and open drug use among crack cocaine smokers should a facility be implemented in this setting.
PMCID: PMC1368973  PMID: 16403229
20.  Alcohol use and incarceration adversely affect HIV-1 RNA suppression among injection drug users starting antiretroviral therapy 
We conducted this study among HIV-infected injection drug users to determine the effect of self-reported alcohol use and prior incarceration at the time of initiating antiretroviral therapy on subsequent HIV-1 RNA suppression. We examined the demographics, recent incarceration history, and drug and alcohol use history from the Vancouver Injection Drug User Study (VIDUS) questionnaire closest to the date of initiating antiretroviral therapy. We linked these data to the HIV/AIDS Drug Treatment Program. There were 234 VIDUS participants who accessed antiretroviral therapy through the Drug Treatment Program from August 1, 1996, to July 31, 2001. In terms of illicit drug use, 196 (84%) reported injecting heroin and cocaine at the time of initiating antiretroviral therapy. Multiple logistic regression revealed that in the 6 months prior to initiating antiretroviral therapy, alcohol use (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 0.32; 95% CI 0.13–0.81) and incarceration (AOR 0.22; 95% CI 0.09–0.58) were independently associated with lower odds of HIV-1 RNA suppression. Factors positively associated with HIV-1 RNA suppression included: adherence (AOR 1.27; 95% CI 1.06–1.51); lower baseline HIV-1 RNA (AOR 1.30: 95% CI 1.01–1.66); highly active antiretroviral therapy (AOR 4.10; 95% CI 1.56–10.6); months on therapy (AOR 1.1; 95% CI 1.06–1.14). Among HIV-infected injection drug users who were on antiretroviral therapy, any alcohol use and incarceration in the 6 months prior to initiating antiretroviral therapy were negatively associated with achieving HIV-1 RNA suppression. In addition to addition treatment for active heroin and cocaine use, the identification and treatment of alcohol problems should be supported in this setting. As well, increased outreach to HIV-infected drug users recently released from prison to ensure continuity of care needs to be further developed.
PMCID: PMC3456224  PMID: 14709714
Anti-HIV agents; HIV infections; Human; Logistic regression models; Substance abuse; Intravenous; Alcohol; Prison
21.  Methodology for evaluating Insite: Canada's first medically supervised safer injection facility for injection drug users 
Many Canadian cities are experiencing ongoing infectious disease and overdose epidemics among injection drug users (IDUs). In particular, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and hepatitis C Virus (HCV) have become endemic in many settings and bacterial and viral infections, such as endocarditis and cellulitis, have become extremely common among this population. In an effort to reduce these public health concerns and the public order problems associated with public injection drug use, in September 2003, Vancouver, Canada opened a pilot medically supervised safer injecting facility (SIF), where IDUs can inject pre-obtained illicit drugs under the supervision of medical staff. The SIF was granted a legal exemption to operate on the condition that its impacts be rigorously evaluated. In order to ensure that the evaluation is appropriately open to scrutiny among the public health community, the present article was prepared to outline the methodology for evaluating the SIF and report on some preliminary observations. The evaluation is primarily structured around a prospective cohort of SIF users, that will examine risk behavior, blood-borne infection transmission, overdose, and health service use. These analyses will be augmented with process data from within the SIF, as well as survey's of local residents and qualitative interviews with users, staff, and key stakeholders, and standardised evaluations of public order changes. Preliminary observations suggest that the site has been successful in attracting IDUs into its programs and in turn helped to reduce public drug use. However, each of the indicators described above is the subject of a rigorous scientific evaluation that is attempting to quantify the overall impacts of the site and identify both benefits and potentially harmful consequences and it will take several years before the SIF's impacts can be appropriately examined.
PMCID: PMC535533  PMID: 15535885
22.  Changes in public order after the opening of a medically supervised safer injecting facility for illicit injection drug users 
North America's first medically supervised safer injecting facility for illicit injection drug users was opened in Vancouver on Sept. 22, 2003. Although similar facilities exist in a number of European cities and in Sydney, Australia, no standardized evaluations of their impact have been presented in the scientific literature.
Using a standardized prospective data collection protocol, we measured injection-related public order problems during the 6 weeks before and the 12 weeks after the opening of the safer injecting facility in Vancouver. We measured changes in the number of drug users injecting in public, publicly discarded syringes and injection-related litter. We used Poisson log-linear regression models to evaluate changes in these public order indicators while considering potential confounding variables such as police presence and rainfall.
In stratified linear regression models, the 12-week period after the facility's opening was independently associated with reductions in the number of drug users injecting in public (p < 0.001), publicly discarded syringes (p < 0.001) and injection-related litter (p < 0.001). The predicted mean daily number of drug users injecting in public was 4.3 (95% confidence interval [CI] 3.5–5.4) during the period before the facility's opening and 2.4 (95% CI 1.9–3.0) after the opening; the corresponding predicted mean daily numbers of publicly discarded syringes were 11.5 (95% CI 10.0–13.2) and 5.4 (95% CI 4.7–6.2). Externally compiled statistics from the city of Vancouver on the number of syringes discarded in outdoor safe disposal boxes were consistent with our findings.
The opening of the safer injecting facility was independently associated with improvements in several measures of public order, including reduced public injection drug use and public syringe disposal.
PMCID: PMC517857  PMID: 15451834
23.  An external evaluation of a peer-run “Unsanctioned” syringe exchange program 
In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, difficulty accessing syringes at night has been shown to be strongly associated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) risk behavior among the city’s injection drug users (IDUs). On September 1, 2001, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) initiated an unsanctioned all-night needle-exchange program on a street corner in the heart of the neigh-borbood where many of the city’s IDUs are concentrated. An external evaluation of the population reached by the VANDU exchange was performed through the Vancouver Injection Drug User’s Study, a prospective cohort study of IDUs begun in 1996. Persons accessing syringes through the exchange were compared to those active injectors who acquired their syringes from other sources, including the city’s fixed site exchange, which closes at 8:00 pm. Overall, 587 active IDUs were seen during the period September 2001 to june 2002; of these individuals. 165 (28.1%) reported using the VANDU exchange. In multivariate analyses, participants who used the VANDU table were more likely to frequently inject cocaine (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=1.56; 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.00–2.44), inject in public (AOR=2.71; 95% CI=1.62–4.53), and require help injecting (OR=2.13; 95% CI=1.33–3.42). Interestingly, use of the table was also independently associated with safer syringe disposal (AOR=2.69; 95% CI-1.38–5.21). Results indicate that the unsanctioned exchange appears to have reached those IDUs at highest risk of HIV infection. Although the cross-sectional nature of the study design warrants caution, we also found that use of the nighttime exchange was strongly associated with higher rates of safe syringe disposal. The data suggest that drug user organizations can play a major role in reducing harm among their peers by reaching the highest risk drug users with harm reduction services. The findings also suggest that other forms of syringe-exchange programs should consider the benefits of offering fixed site nighttime service.
PMCID: PMC3455981  PMID: 12930883
Harin reduction; HIV/AIDS; Peer; Vancouver; VANDU
24.  Displacement of Canada's largest public illicit drug market in response to a police crackdown 
Law enforcement is often used in an effort to reduce the social, community and health-related harms of illicit drug use by injection drug users (IDUs). There are, however, few data on the benefits of such enforcement or on the potential harms. A large-scale police “crackdown” to control illicit drug use in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside provided us with an opportunity to evaluate the effect.
As part of our ongoing prospective cohort study of IDUs in Vancouver, we examined data collected from 244 IDUs in the 3 months before the police crackdown and from 142 IDUs in the 3 months after the start of the crackdown, on Apr. 7, 2003. All study subjects were active drug users. We also examined external data on needle exchanges and syringe disposal.
The 2 groups of IDUs were statistically similar: they were mainly young (mean age 39 years) and male (63%), and they had injected illicit drugs for 13 years on average. Ethnic background and the proportion homeless were also similar. There were no statistically significant reported differences (all p > 0.1) in the street price of heroin, cocaine or “crack” in the 2 periods. In the 3-month periods before and after the crackdown, respectively, the rates of daily heroin injection were 27.9% and 26.8%, daily cocaine injection 28.7% and 27.5%, and daily crack use 59.4% and 60.6% (all p > 0.1). The proportions of study subjects receiving methadone treatment, 41.0% and 44.4% (p = 0.516), did not differ. However, the proportions reporting a change in where drugs were used, 22.5% and 33.8% (p < 0.05), and the proportions reporting a change in the neighbourhood of use because of police presence, 18.1% and 26.8% (p < 0.05), increased significantly. Needle-exchange data confirmed that the community levels of drug use were unchanged. Disposal statistics demonstrated that the monthly average number of used syringes found on the streets outside the traditional area of drug use increased from 784 in the 3 months before Apr. 1 to 1253 in the subsequent 3 months (p = 0.002) and the monthly average number of used syringes found in public boxes for the safe disposal of syringes decreased from 865 to 502 (p = 0.018).
The effort to control illicit drug use did not alter the price of drugs or the frequency of use, nor did it encourage enrolment in methadone treatment programs. Several measures indicated displacement of injection drug use from the area of the crackdown into adjacent areas of the city, which has implications for both recruitment of new initiates into injection drug use and HIV prevention efforts.
PMCID: PMC400719  PMID: 15136548
25.  Potential use of safer injecting facilities among injection drug users in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside 
The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority will initiate North America's first sanctioned safer injecting facility, as a pilot project, on Sept. 15, 2003. The analyses presented here were conducted to estimate the potential use of safer injecting facilities by local illicit injection drug users (IDUs) and to evaluate the potential impact of newly established Health Canada restrictions and current police activities on the use of the proposed facility.
During April and May 2003, we recruited active IDUs in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to participate in a feasibility study. We used descriptive and univariate statistics to determine potential use of a safer injecting facility and to explore factors associated with willingness to use such a facility with and without federal restrictions and police presence.
Overall, 458 street-recruited IDUs completed an interviewer-administered survey, of whom 422 (92%) reported a willingness to use a safer injecting facility. Those expressing willingness were more likely to inject in public (odds ratio [OR] 3.9, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.9–8.0). When the restrictions in the Health Canada guidelines were considered, only 144 (31%) participants were willing to use a safer injecting facility. IDUs who inject alone were more likely (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.0–3.1) and women were less likely (OR 0.6, 95% CI 0.4–0.9) to be willing to use a safer injecting facility operating under these restrictions. Only 103 (22%) of the participants said they would be willing to use a safer injecting facility if police were stationed near the entrance.
Most IDUs participating in this study expressed a willingness to use a safer injecting facility. However, willingness declined substantially when the IDUs were asked about using a facility operating under selected Health Canada restrictions and in the event that police were stationed near the entrance.
PMCID: PMC203277  PMID: 14557313

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