US Department of Health funds Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study

published on November 18, 2004

(Vancouver) – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will provide more than $3 million over five years to support the Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study (VIDUS) and fund a new youth-at-risk study, the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS announced today.

The $612,000 annual grant, awarded by the department’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), will ensure the survival of the “incredibly rare” ongoing study, as well as create the province’s first cohort study of youth-at-risk to initiate injection drug use, says VIDUS investigator Dr. Thomas Kerr.

“Thankfully, we now have sustainable funding for the next five years that will guarantee the future of this internationally unique cohort,” says Kerr. “There are very few ongoing cohort studies of injection drug users in the world and Vancouver’s is unique due to the complex issues occurring in the Downtown Eastside and new prevention programs that are being initiated. VIDUS is an incredibly rare and essential resource for informing policy.”

As part of the NIH grant, investigators from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS will evaluate the incidence of initiation into injection drug use among youth-at-risk in Vancouver. Individual, cultural and environmental influences, as well as the impact of prevention programs, will be studied.

“One of the many key study areas will be the growing problem with youth in high-risk populations using crystal methamphetamine. This trend is of great concern and has not been comprehensively studied,” says Kerr.

VIDUS was initiated in 1996 by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS as an outbreak investigation of the HIV epidemic. It served as a pivotal cohort study that provided hard proof to the Ministry of Health that immediate action was required in the Downtown Eastside. VIDUS includes over 1,500 injection drug users and now serves as an essential resource for evaluating the Vancouver’s Four Pillars Drug Strategy.

VIDUS will not only continue to track HIV incidence but also will track access to HIV treatment among people who are HIV positive, enforcement activities, outcomes related to the supervised injection site, and access to addiction treatment.

“The results of VIDUS, along with our other ongoing cohorts, are essential for the Centre in our ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS,” says Dr. Julio Montaner, acting director of the Centre.

VIDUS participants are tested for HIV and complete questionnaires every six months. VIDUS participants are also tested for hepatitis C. Each participant continues to receive pre- and post-test education and counselling, as well as referrals to other community resources as needed.

NIH, an agency under the U.S. Dept. of Health, is the steward of medical and behavioural research for America. NIH comprises 27 institutes and centres. The VIDUS grant falls under the purview of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA was established in 1974 and in 1992 became part of NIH. NIDA supports over 85 percent of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction.

NIH previously provided VIDUS approximately $1.5M over four years, from 1998 to 2001.

Founded in 1992 by St. Paul’s Hospital and the provincial Ministry of Health, the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is a key provincial resource seeking to improve the health of people with HIV through the development, ongoing monitoring and dissemination of comprehensive investigative and treatment programs for HIV and related diseases. St. Paul’s Hospital is one of six health care facilities operated by Providence Health Care, Canada’s largest faith-based health care organization.