BACKGROUND: Over the last several years, fentanyl has been introduced into the illicit drug supply in the United States. While the impact of fentanyl on overdose fatalities is clear, the increase in fentanyl use may also be affecting drug use practices with implications for infectious disease transmission. We conducted a cross-sectional survey to explore associations of perceived illicit fentanyl use with opioid use frequency, injection frequency and syringe sharing among people who inject drugs in two California cities.
METHODS: People who inject drugs (PWID) were recruited from community settings in Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA from June 2017 to September 2018. Multivariable logistic regression was used to explore adjusted associations between perceived illicit fentanyl use and high frequency opioid use, high frequency injection and syringe sharing.
RESULTS: Among the 395 study participants, the median age of participants was 44 years; 74% of participants were cisgender male; 73% reported to be homeless; 61% lived in San Francisco and 39% in Los Angeles. The prevalence of perceived illicit fentanyl use in the past six months was 50.4% (95% confidence interval (CI): 45.4%-55.3%) among PWID. Findings from our adjusted logistic regression models suggested that people reporting perceived illicit fentanyl use had a greater odds of high frequency opioid use (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 2.36; 95% CI: 1.43-3.91; p = 0.001), high frequency injection (aOR = 1.84; 95% CI: 1.08-3.13; p = 0.03) and receptive syringe sharing (aOR = 2.16; 95% CI: 1.06-4.36; p = 0.03), as compared to people using heroin and other street drugs but not fentanyl.
CONCLUSION: People reporting perceived illicit fentanyl use were at increased risk for injection-related infectious disease risks. Actions must be taken to reduce these risks, including improved access to syringe service programs and opioid treatment and consideration of innovative approaches, such as supervised consumption services.