Experts Fear Spread of HIV in Glasgow as Drug Users Share Needles

There are many short- and long-term effects of drug abuse and addiction, and those who inject drugs are leaving themselves vulnerable to health problems such as hepatitis and HIV. Experts now fear that an outbreak of HIV in Glasgow is spiralling out of control as there have been ten new cases already in the first three months of 2017.

The outbreak began in 2015, and prior to this, new cases of HIV in the city were stable at around ten or less every year. However, in just the first three months of 2017, that number has already been reached, meaning that in the two years since the outbreak began, eighty-eight new cases have been diagnosed.

Is Sharing Drug Equipment Dangerous?

It goes without saying that it is extremely dangerous to share drug equipment, particularly needles, but those affected by addiction are often unable to think logically. All these individuals can think about is their next fix, and if sharing a needle with another drug addict is the only way they can get it, they will not hesitate.

With a group of what has been described as ‘chaotic intravenous drug users’ congregating in the city of Glasgow and injecting in public places, it is no surprise that the number of people being affected by diseases such as HIV has risen. Many of these individuals are injecting the former legal high ethylphenidate, which produces similar effects as heroin but these effects are shorter-lived. This means that users are injecting much more often and are often doing so in a hurry and in secret, causing them to share needles and other equipment.

Could Injection Sites Make It Safer for Addicts?

Plans for an injection site in Glasgow are now even more urgent according to public health officials, who believe that providing a safe environment for drug users could prevent more cases of HIV. There is a worry that the disease could spread because many of those affected are unwilling to get help due to their state of mind, caused by their addiction.

Vice chair of the Glasgow Alcohol and Drugs Partnership Dr Emelia Crighton said, “Usually people who get HIV comply with treatment, no problem. But this group are not doing. We may manage to get some stable and get their viral load down for a spell, but the next thing is they do not come anymore.”

She went on to say, “Attempts to educate and treat those diagnosed fall down because this population have chaotic lifestyles, characterised by poverty, homelessness and spells in and out of jail. We have tried lots of things to adapt treatments to their lifestyle, but the addiction is the main stumbling block.”

Other Initiatives

In order to put a halt to the spread of HIV in the city, experts have tried other initiatives such as providing access to needle exchanges, altering the design of needles so that sharing is discouraged, and encouraging users to smoke drugs instead of injecting them. HIV treatment has also been dispensed within the community, thus reducing the need for users to attend clinics.

However, because the above initiatives have only had limited success, calls for injection sites have become more vocal. Dr Crighton said, “There is always a concern about the outbreak spreading. So far, luckily, we have not seen it anywhere out with this group.”

Nevertheless, there is a concern that the disease will be spread further through sexual contact as well as through drug use. She said that for those affected by HIV, the prospects are bleak if they do not engage with treatment, adding, “Sooner or later this will progress to Aids. But there is nowadays no reason to end up that way. Addiction is simply ruining these people’s lives – nothing comes between them and the hit.”


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