A protective effect was seen with regard to hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission among individuals who “reversed transitioned” to noninjected drug use and in persons who used noninjected drugs in addition to injecting, according to an interview study of 846 drug users.

Various drugs ©andrewsafonov/Thinkstock

Data were collected between January 2007 and December 2017 as part of a long-running study of persons entering Mount Sinai Beth Israel drug detoxification and methadone maintenance programs, reported Don C. Des Jarlais, MD, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and his colleagues.

Among the 846 individuals studied, men comprised 79%; 41% were white, 15% African American, and 40% Hispanic, with a mean age of 35 years. They were all currently persons who injected drugs (PWID), according to the report published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

A total of 97 persons (11%) “reverse transitioned” back to noninjected drug use, according to the researchers; this reverse transitioning was strongly associated with lower HCV positivity, compared with those who continued injecting (30% vs. 47%, respectively; P less than .005).

There was a substantial difference in the HCV prevalence between PWID who reported noninjected use of heroin (43%) versus PWID who did not report noninjected use of heroin (53%) (P = .005).

Distributive needle sharing was common in HCV seropositives who were injecting cocaine in the 6 months prior to the interview: 28% of the HCV seropositives injecting cocaine reported distributive sharing versus 14% of the HCV seropositives not injecting cocaine (P = .001).

“Harm reduction for PWID has been largely defined in terms of ‘safer injection,’ using sterile injection equipment, proper preparation of the injecting site, etc. We would like to suggest that harm reduction for PWID be broadened to include reverse transitions back to exclusive noninjecting use and frequent substitution of noninjecting for injecting use,” the investigators suggested.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. The authors reported that they had no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Des Jarlais DC et al. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2018 Sep 12. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2018.07.034.