Minimizing exposure

published on September 16, 2015 by Geoff Koehler in Health Canal

Dr. Dan Werb wants to prevent potential injection drug users from ever starting, by limiting their exposure to experienced injection drug users. He also wants to increase the opportunities people who inject drugs have to find recovery support when they need it. Luckily, his new research may accomplish both.

Dr. Werb heads a research project called PRIMER, or Preventing Injecting by Modifying Existing Responses. It was partly inspired by the successful Treatment as Prevention model for reducing HIV prevalence that uses antiretroviral drugs to reduce HIV viral loads to very low or undetectable levels, thereby reducing the risk that HIV-positive people will infect others. Instead of improving access to antiretroviral medication, however, PRIMER will test whether improved access to public health programs such as methadone clinics and supervised injection sites reduces the risk that people who inject drugs initiate others into injecting.

“It seems that first-time drug injectors most often begin injecting because they’ve been exposed to veteran injectors and become desensitized – to the point where the drastic step of sticking a needle in your arm seems normal,” said Dr. Werb, a scientist with the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital.

Dr. Werb – who has a PhD in epidemiology and expertise in HIV and addictions research – said the key to preventing this exposure is expanding existing public health services for the 100,000 Canadians who already inject drugs, typically cocaine, heroin or other opioids such as OxyContin.

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