Fewer African Americans, More Whites Injecting Drugs

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Cyprian Wejnert, Ph.D. National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention CDC

Dr. Cyprian Wejnert

Cyprian Wejnert, Ph.D.
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Our country is dealing with a devastating epidemic of opioid misuse and overdose that affects individuals, families and communities. We have long known that sharing needles and syringes is an incredibly efficient route for HIV, hepatitis and other infections to spread.

Yet, about 10% of annual HIV diagnoses in the United States occur among people who inject drugs, and there are clusters of hepatitis C infections across the country. These infections can be prevented when people who inject drugs use sterile needles, syringes and other injection equipment. One of the main findings of this study is that use of syringe services programs (SSPs) has increased substantially during the past decade, but most people who inject drugs still don’t always use sterile needles.

The analysis finds that more than half (54%) of people who inject drugs in 22 cities with a high number of HIV cases reported in 2015 they used an SSP in the past year, compared to only about one-third (36%) in 2005. Although syringe services program use has increased, findings indicate that too few people who inject drugs use only sterile needles. One in three (33%) reported in 2015 that they had shared a needle within the past year – about the same percentage that reported sharing a decade ago (36% in 2005).

The report also highlights some successes in HIV prevention among African Americans and Latinos who inject drugs, as well as concerning trends in whites who inject drugs. From our study of 22 urban areas, it appears that fewer African Americans are injecting drugs. However, it also appears there has been an increase in white Americans injecting drugs.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Since the peak in 1993, annual AIDS diagnoses among people who inject drugs have decreased approximately 90%. However, we risk stalling or reversing decades of progress in HIV prevention. As the injection drug epidemic expands and changes, only by providing services where they are needed can we prevent a resurgence of HIV infections.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We need to continue learning more about the changing demographics of people who inject drugs. Populations that have not historically been at high risk for HIV and other serious infections could be at greater risk due injection drug use associated with the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Comprehensive  syringe services programs can be a critical component in preventing HIV among people who inject drugs. Decisions about implementing SSPs are made at state and local levels, and many barriers exist that block people who inject drugs from accessing clean needles, syringes and equipment that can prevent the transmission of HIV, hepatitis and other serious infections. Where possible, barriers to comprehensive SSPs can be removed. Where that is not possible, other means of providing access to sterile equipment — like pharmacy access — can be considered for what would be most effective within a particular area.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.


Wejnert C, Hess KL, Hall HI, et al. Vital Signs: Trends in HIV Diagnoses, Risk Behaviors, and Prevention Among Persons Who Inject Drugs — United States. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:1336–1342. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6547e1.

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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