BACKGROUND: Heroin injection is associated with health and social problems including hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission. Few studies have examined the circumstances surrounding initiation to heroin injecting, especially current users initiating others. The current study aimed to examine the age of first heroin use and injection; administration route of first heroin use; relationship to initiator; the initiation of others among a group of heroin users; and to examine these factors in relation to HCV status and risk.
METHOD: Heroin users in Sydney were recruited through needle and syringe programs, a methadone clinic and snowballing. Participants were interviewed about their own initiation to heroin use, blood-borne virus risk and knowledge, and whether they had initiated others to heroin injecting. Information on HCV status was collected via self-report. Data was analysed using univariate and multivariate statistical techniques for Normally distributed continuous and categorical data. RESULTS: The study recruited 399 heroin users, with a mean age of 31 years, 63% were male, 77% reported heroin as their primary drug and 59% were HCV positive (self-report). Mean age at first heroin use and injection was 19 and 21 years, respectively. The majority of heroin users commenced heroin use via injecting (65%), younger users (30 years) to commence heroin use parenterally. Participants were initiated to injection mainly by friends (63%). Thirty-seven percent reported initiating others to heroin injection, but few factors were related to this behaviour. Those with longer heroin using careers were more likely to report initiating others to heroin injection, but were no more likely to have done so in the preceding 12 months. Participants who had initiated others were more likely to have shared injecting equipment (12 vs 23%), but were no more likely to be HCV positive (self-report) than those who did not.
CONCLUSION: Interventions to prevent heroin users initiating others to injecting are necessary. Peer groups may be well positioned to implement such interventions.