A study has shown that a rise in cocaine injecting and homelessness are driving factors in a 10-fold increase in HIV infection among people who use drugs in Glasgow.
The study by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), University of West of Scotland, University of Dundee, Sandyford Sexual Health Services, Health Protection Scotland and NHS GGC was conducted between 2011 and 2018 and involved almost 4,000 people who inject drugs in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
More than 100 new cases of HIV were identified among people who use drugs in the city between 2015 and 2017.
Before that, the number of new cases among people who inject drugs across Scotland had “remained stable” at about 15 a year.
The research, published in The Lancet HIV journal, found the number of people who use drugs with HIV went from one in 87 (1.1%) in 2011-12 to 25 out of 231 (10.8%) in 2017-18.
Speaking to the BBC, Dr Andrew McAuley, a senior research fellow in blood borne viruses at GCU, said the study showed increased injecting and homelessness were key factors.
Andrew said there had been “a hugely significant increase in the prevalence of HIV infection in the population of people who inject drugs in Glasgow” and that “cocaine injecting was “one of the strongest drivers”.
Injecting cocaine puts people at particular risk of blood-borne virus transmission due to its stimulant properties, meaning that people inject more frequently than they would with other injectable substances such as heroin.
“With people who are injecting more frequently, their ability to access clean and sterile equipment for every injection is compromised so that certainly puts people at risk.”
Dr McAuley said the research “provides further justification for interventions such as the proposed drug consumption room and heroin-assisted treatment services in Glasgow”.
He added: “Crucially, over 90% of the individuals diagnosed as part of the outbreak have been successfully engaged in HIV treatment as a result of the multidisciplinary response implemented by the health board.”
Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP), which supports opening a safer drug consumption facility, welcomed the findings of the study.
Susanne Millar, the body’s chief officer for strategy and operations, said it provided “further credible evidence for looking beyond current methods for helping this very vulnerable group”.
She added: “We anticipate opening a Heroin Assisted Treatment facility in Glasgow later this year which will benefit heroin users who inject cocaine also, one of the groups most at risk of HIV transmission.”
The Scottish government’s public health minister, Joe FitzPatrick, said: “We support Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership’s proposals to introduce a secure, medically supervised consumption facility.
“We must be willing to back innovative, evidence-based approaches that can make a real difference to people’s lives.”