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Rise of ‘club’ drugs could dent wider public health success

A new report shows the infection risk for all drug users remains high.

Public Health England (PHE) research found that the number of people reporting their main reporting drug as amphetamines nearly tripled between 2002 and 2012, and they are more likely to report sharing injecting equipment. These people were also less likely to have ever been tested for HIV or hepatitis C.

Almost half of people who inject psychoactive drugs have been infected with hepatitis C and one in every 100 has HIV. Of those injecting image and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs), one in ten has been exposed to one or more of HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

The report did also highlight a reduction in hepatitis B; probably due to increased vaccine uptake and a decline in equipment sharing.

Presenting the findings, Dr Vivian Hope, a PHE expert in infections among people who inject drugs, said: “In the UK, we’re seeing growing use of image and performance enhancing drugs and signs of a recent increase in the injection of ‘club’ drugs and amphetamine-type stimulants.

“These changes could impact on our public health success in controlling HIV and hepatitis B among people who inject drugs, such as the proportion of people who inject drugs ever infected with hepatitis B falling from 29% in 2002 to 17% in 2012.

“The potential impact of the changing patterns of drug use must be explored, and the implications for research, service provision and harm reduction carefully considered.”

Dr Fortune Ncube, consultant epidemiologist and lead for PHE on injecting drug use said: “Viruses don’t discriminate. We must maintain and strengthen public health interventions focused on reducing injection-related risk behaviours to prevent HIV and hepatitis infections among all drug users.

“This includes ensuring easy access for those who inject image and performance enhancing drugs to voluntary confidential testing services for HIV and hepatitis, as well as to appropriate sterile injecting equipment through needle and syringe programmes.”

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