Needle Exchange Survey Initative 2015-16 findings shed light on current drug injecting population

Health Protection Scotland, in collaboration with the University of the West of Scotland and Glasgow Caledonian University, has published the Needle Exchange Surveillance Initiative (NESI) report for 2015-16, which also includes findings from the 2008-09 survey.

NESI aims to measure and monitor the prevalence of blood-borne viruses and injecting risk behaviours among people who inject drugs in Scotland, and provides information to evaluate and better target interventions aimed at reducing the spread of infection amongst people who inject drugs.

Key findings of the report included:

Hepatitis C and HIV

– The estimated incidence of hepatitis C among the target population in 2015-16 is 11.4 per 100 persons; this, and other indicators of recently acquired infection (i.e. prevalence among recent onset injectors), suggest incidence of hepatitis C may have increased since 2011-12.

– 63% of respondents accurately reported their hepatitis C status (comparing self-reported with dried blood spot testing), the highest level since 2008-09, suggesting that an increasing proportion of the hepatitis C-infected population of people who inject drugs are being diagnosed.

– Uptake of hepatitis B virus vaccination, and hepatitis C virus and HIV testing are at their highest levels since the NESI surveys began in 2008-09.

– The prevalence of hepatitis C antibodies among people who inject drugs in 2015-16 remains high at 58%.

– Over half of those testing positive for HIV antibodies in 2015-16 reported that they were unaware of their infection.

Sharing equipment

– Sharing of needles/syringes and other equipment (spoons/cookers, filters, water) are stable but reported re-use of one’s own needle/syringe has increased, especially among psychostimulant users.

Older drug users

– The average age of the NESI sample has increased year-on-year since 2008-09, suggesting an ageing cohort of people who inject drugs.

Substances injected

– Heroin remains the most prevalent drug injected, but there are signs that injection of psychostimulants, notably cocaine and “legal highs”, have increased in recent years.

Click here to view the Needle Exchange Surveillance Initiative (NESI) 2015-16 report