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.