RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new study by RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California has found that people who reported illicit fentanyl use are at higher risk for injection-related infectious diseases, as compared to people who use heroin and other street drugs but not fentanyl. The study was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy on Wednesday.
“Over the last several years, fentanyl use has dramatically increased throughout the United States,” said Barrot Lambdin, PhD, a senior epidemiologist and implementation scientist at RTI who led the study. “While it’s clear that fentanyl has been a major contributor to overdose deaths, this study shows that fentanyl-related harms could also extend to an increased risk for infectious disease transmission.”
Lambdin and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional survey of 395 people who inject drugs from Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The study showed that 50 percent of people who inject drugs reported illicit fentanyl use in the past six months. Compared with people who used heroin and other street drugs, people who used illicit fentanyl tended to inject drugs and use shared syringes more frequently – both of which are risk factors for contracting an injection-related infectious diseases, such as HIV and HCV.
“These findings make a case for scaling up syringe access programs, which continue to be the backbone of efforts to reduce transmission of these infectious diseases, and ensuring access to drug testing so that people understand whether fentanyl is in their drug” said Lambdin. “We have to be proactive to address this issue.”
The study was funded by the National Institute of Health.