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Young Drug Users: a Vulnerable Population and an Underutilized Resource in HIV/HCV Prevention


Purpose of Review

The social networks of people who inject drugs (PWID) have long been studied to understand disease transmission dynamics and social influences on risky practices. We illustrate how PWID can be active agents promoting HIV, HCV, and overdose prevention.

Recent Findings

We assessed drug users’ connections and interactions with others at risk for HIV/HCV in three cities: New York City (NYC), USA (n = 539); Pereira, Colombia (n = 50); and St. Petersburg, Russia (n = 49). In all three cities, the majority of participants’ network members were of a similar age as themselves, yet connections across age groups were also present. In NYC, knowing any opioid user(s) older than 29 was associated with testing HCV-positive. In NYC and St. Petersburg, a large proportion of PWID engaged in intravention activities to support safer injection and overdose prevention; in Pereira, PWID injected, had sex, and interacted with other key groups at risk.


People who use drugs can be active players in HIV/HCV and overdose risk- reduction; their networks provide them with ample opportunities to disseminate harm reduction knowledge, strategies, and norms to others at risk. Local communities could augment prevention programming by empowering drug users to be allies in the fight against HIV and facilitating their pre-existing health-protective actions.

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This study was supported by US National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) grants R01DA035146, R01DA041501, P30DA011041, and T32DA007233.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute on Drug Abuse or the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Pedro Mateu-Gelabert.

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Conflict of Interest

P. Meylakhs’ and A. Meylakhs’ effort on this paper was supported by the project Fostering Public Health and Quality of Life: Developing and Improving Current Methodology funded by the National Research University Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg, Russia (2018).

P. Mateu-Gelabert, H. Guarino, K. Quinn, P. Meylakhs, S. Campos, A. Meylakhs, D. Berbesi, D. Toro-Tobón, E. Goodbody, D.C. Ompad, and S. R. Friedman declare that they have no competing interests.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on The Global Epidemic

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Mateu-Gelabert, P., Guarino, H., Quinn, K. et al. Young Drug Users: a Vulnerable Population and an Underutilized Resource in HIV/HCV Prevention. Curr HIV/AIDS Rep 15, 324–335 (2018).

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  • People who inject drugs
  • HIV/HCV prevention
  • Young drug users
  • Opioid use