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Comprehensive needle and syringe program and opioid agonist therapy reduce HIV and hepatitis c virus acquisition among people who inject drugs in different settings: a pooled analysis of emulated trials.

van Santen DK, Lodi S, Dietze P, van den Boom W, Hayashi K, Dong H, Cui Z, Maher L, Hickman M, Boyd A, Prins M

  • Journal Addiction

  • Published 29 Jan 2023

  • Volume 118

  • ISSUE 6

  • Pagination 1116-1126

  • DOI 10.1111/add.16147


Background and aims: Although the Netherlands, Canada and Australia were early adopters of harm reduction for people who inject drugs (PWID), their respective HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) epidemics differ. We measured the pooled effect of needle and syringe program (NSP) and opioid agonist therapy (OAT) participation on HIV and HCV incidence in these settings.

Design: For each cohort, we emulated the design and statistical analysis of a target trial using observational data.

Setting and participants: We included PWID at risk of HIV or HCV infection from the Amsterdam Cohort Studies (1985-2013), Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study (1997-2009) and Melbourne Injecting Drug User Cohort Study (SuperMIX) (2010-2021).

Measurements: Separately for each infection and cohort (only HCV in SuperMIX), marginal structural models were used to compare the effect of comprehensive (on OAT and 100% NSP coverage or on OAT only if no recent injection drug use) versus no/partial NSP/OAT (no OAT and/or <100% NSP coverage) participation. Pooled hazard ratios (HR) and 95% CI were calculated using random-effects meta-analysis.

Findings: We observed 94 HIV seroconversions and 81 HCV seroconversions among 2023 and 430 participants, respectively. Comprehensive NSP/OAT led to a 41% lower risk of HIV acquisition (pooled HR = 0.59, 95% CI = 0.36-0.96) and a 76% lower risk of HCV acquisition (pooled HR = 0.24, 95% CI = 0.11-0.51), compared with no/partial NSP/OAT, with little heterogeneity between studies for both infections (I2 = 0%).

Conclusions: In the Netherlands, Canada and Australia, comprehensive needle and syringe program and opioid agonist therapy participation appears to substantially reduce HIV and hepatitis C acquisition compared with no or partial needle and syringe program/opioid agonist therapy participation. These findings from an emulated trial design reinforce the critical role of comprehensive access to harm reduction in optimizing infection prevention for people who inject drugs.

Keywords: Emulated trial; HIV; harm reduction programs; hepatitis C virus; needle and syringe programs; opioid agonist therapy; people who inject drugs.