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Image enhancing drugs are 'major infection risk'

Patterns of injecting drug use are changing, but the infection risk “remains high” a new Public Health England (PHE) report has claimed. 

Heroin, on its own or in combination with crack-cocaine is still the most commonly injected drug. 

The number of people reporting their main injecting drug as amphetamines and amphetamine-type substances (like mephedrone) nearly tripled between 2002 and 2012. 

This group is also more likely to report sharing of injecting equipment, and are less likely to have ever tested for HIV or hepatitis C. 

But the largest group accessing needle and syringe programmes are image and performance enhancing drug (IPED) users, who now outnumber heroin and crack-cocaine users. 

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.”

The report, Shooting Up - infections among people who inject drugs in the United Kingdom 2012, found that almost half of people who inject psychoactive drugs have been infected with hepatitis C, and around 1% have HIV. 

One in ten people injecting IPEDs have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. 

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.”