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Celentano DD, Vlahov D, Cohn S, Shadle VM, Obasanjo O, Moore RD. Self-reported Antiretroviral Therapy in Injection Drug Users. JAMA. 1998;280(6):544–546. doi:10.1001/jama.280.6.544
From the Department of Epidemiology, School of Hygiene and Public Health (Drs Celentano, Vlahov, and Obasanjo and Mss Cohn and Shadle), and the Department of Medicine, School of Medicine (Dr Moore), The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
Context.— The US Public Health Service and the International AIDS Society–USA
recently published recommendations for antiretroviral therapy (ART) for persons
infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); however, anecdotal evidence
suggests that HIV-infected injection drug users (IDUs) may not be receiving
optimal care as defined by the recommendations.
Objective.— To assess ART use in HIV-infected IDUs.
Design.— A cross-sectional survey of self-reported ART use between July 1996
and June 1997 in IDUs.
Setting.— A community-based clinic affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore,
Participants.— A total of 404 HIV-infected IDUs with CD4+ cell counts less
than 0.50×109/L recruited into a longitudinal study in 1988
Main Outcome Measure.— Self-reported ART use was assessed: no current therapy, monotherapy,
or combination therapy with or without a protease inhibitor.
Results.— One half (199/404 [49%]) of patients reported no recent ART. A total
of 14% (58/404) had monotherapy, 23% (90/404) were receiving combination therapy
without a protease inhibitor, and 14% (57/404) had triple-combination therapy
with a protease inhibitor. A multivariate analysis of factors associated with
ART showed that care continuity and recent HIV-related outpatient visit (odds
ratio [OR], 4.30; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.36-7.81 and OR, 2.84; 95%
CI, 1.66-4.88, respectively), CD4+ cell count of less than 0.20×109 (OR, 2.41; 95% CI, 1.51-3.84), no current drug use and being in drug
treatment (OR, 2.16; 95% CI, 1.34-3.47; OR, 2.12; 95% CI, 1.23-3.66, respectively),
and unemployment (OR, 2.31; 95% CI, 1.21-4.40) were associated with reporting
ART use. In other analysis, less likely to receive protease inhibitors were
current drug injectors (OR, 0.5; 95% CI, 0.3-1.0) and those recently incarcerated
(OR, 0.2; 95% CI, 0.03-0.9), but patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
were more likely to receive protease inhibitors (OR, 2.0; 95% CI, 0.9-4.6).
Protease inhibitor use doubled (P<.01) from July
and December 1996 to January and June 1997 (7.7% and 14.8%, respectively).
Conclusions.— Those IDUs infected with HIV who were not receiving ART tended to be
active drug users without clinical disease who have less contact with health
care providers. Although we do not have information on clinical judgment regarding
treatment decisions or whether persons were prescribed therapy not taken,
the proportion of subjects reporting receiving ART suggests that strategies
for improving treatment in this population are indicated. Expanding simultaneous
treatment services for HIV infection and substance abuse would enhance the
response to these related epidemics.
RECENT recommendations for antiretroviral therapy (ART) for human immunodeficiency
virus (HIV) infection have been released, and efficacy of the newer therapies
has been shown via plasma HIV RNA levels.1-3
It has been suggested that regimens with 2 reverse transcriptase inhibitors
and a protease inhibitor can reduce plasma HIV RNA below detectable levels
in most cases.4-6
Triple therapy use carries a responsibility to adhere to complex therapy with
possible adverse effects.7 Nonadherence concerns
include virus repopulation8 and cross-resistance.1 There is a belief that active injection drug users
(IDUs) are incapable of adherence.9 Former
drug users are not known to be less adherent than other patients.10
Recent guidelines2 address the prescribing
of triple therapy for suspected substance abusers and do not support the exclusion
of patients from aggressive treatment because of substance abuse history.
However, the guidelines support postponement of triple therapy while active
drug use is addressed.2 The extent to which
IDUs currently eligible for ART between July 1996 and June 1997 received such
treatment is reported herein.
Between February 1988 and March 1989, we enrolled 2960 persons in Baltimore,
Md, into a study of the natural history of HIV infection in IDUs (the AIDS
Links to Intravenous Experience study).11 Enrollment
criteria included age of 18 years or older and nonmedical injection drug use
between 1977 and study entry; subjects were free of the acquired immunodeficiency
syndrome (AIDS). Subjects provided informed consent (approved by the Committee
on Human Research, Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health) and
were interviewed regarding demographic and HIV risk factors. Following pretest
counseling, serum was provided; repeatedly reactive enzyme-linked immunosorbent
assay test results were confirmed by Western blot. Subjects were reimbursed
a total of $20 for both initial screening visit and posttest counseling visit
2 weeks later.
The study involved semiannual visits; and subjects were asked to return
for repeat HIV testing to identify seroconverters. At visits, subjects were
asked about recent drug use and sexual behavior and constitutional signs and
symptoms of HIV disease. Subjects were also asked about currently prescribed
ART and therapy they may have stopped taking during the past 6 months. Self-reported
medication use was categorized as no current antiretroviral therapy, monotherapy,
or combination therapy with and without a protease inhibitor.
This analysis covers July 1996 through June 1997, which followed release
of relevant guidelines and wide availability of protease inhibitors. Of the
561 HIV-infected persons surviving until this interval, 404 (72%) with a CD4+ cell count less than 0.50×109/L were interviewed.
Subjects had a median of 13 visits prior to the study and were referred to
care based on most recent guidelines. For those with more than 1 visit during
the study (67.8%), data from the most recent visit are used. Of the participants,
97.3% were African American and 40.8% had graduated from high school.
Medication use was compared by demographic factors, lifestyle stability
indicators (unemployment, incarceration, homelessness [ascertained by asking,
"Have you been homeless, at any time in the last 6 months?"]), current drug
use and drug treatment, HIV disease progression (low CD4+ cell
count, HIV-related symptoms, or AIDS diagnosis), and care use (usual care
source, care continuity, recent outpatient HIV-related visit, and health insurance).
Data pertained to the prior 6 months. Data analysis was done using χ2 and odds ratios (ORs) (with 95% confidence intervals [CIs]) for associations
between predictor variables and reported therapy use. Comparisons identified
factors associated with any vs no therapy, and for those receiving it, factors
associated with protease inhibitor use. Variables significant in univariate
analysis (P<.10) were entered simultaneously into
multivariate models. Logistic regression analysis was performed for receipt
of combination therapy including a protease inhibitor for those reporting
Of the 404 participants with CD4+ cell counts less than 0.50×109/L, three quarters were male, half were active injectors, one quarter
reported recent drug abuse treatment, and half reported no ART during the
study. A total of 14% (58/404) reported receiving monotherapy (usually zidovudine)
and 23% (90/404) reported combination therapy without a protease inhibitor;
only 14% (57/404) reported receiving combination therapy with a protease inhibitor.
Factors associated with reporting no ART are included in Table 1. Gender, employment, incarceration, homelessness, and HIV-related
symptoms did not distinguish those receiving vs not receiving therapy during
Characteristics associated with ART use in multivariate analysis (Table 2) were unemployment, no current
injection drug use, and drug abuse treatment. Those with a CD4+
cell count below 0.20×109/L were more likely to receive ART,
as were those reporting a recent outpatient HIV-related visit and having continuity
of care. There were no differences by age, sex, AIDS diagnosis or HIV-related
symptoms, or health insurance after adjusting for other factors.
In those receiving ART, reported use of protease inhibitors in regimens
was statistically significantly less common in those with recent incarceration
and with current drug use (Table 1).
Use of protease inhibitors was not associated with other measures of stability,
disease progression, or access to medical care.
Multivariate analysis of use of combination therapy with a protease
inhibitor showed association with no use of injection drugs (OR, 1.91; 95%
CI, 1.00-3.67) and a diagnosis of AIDS (OR, 2.10; 95% CI, 0.98-3.67); no differences
by sex were found (data not shown).
During July to December 1996, 7.7% of subjects reported use of triple
therapy; this increased to 14.8% in the following 6 months (P<.01). Also, of 500 seronegative subjects asked about ART, none
reported use of ART, suggesting that street availability of postexposure prophylaxis
is uncommon, to date, in Baltimore.
These data indicate that ART use in HIV-infected IDUs is less than optimal.
Nonuse of ART is more frequent in active drug users without symptomatic disease
who have less contact with the health care system. In those receiving any
ART, no recent incarceration history and no active injecting drug use were
associated with receiving combination therapy with a protease inhibitor. Underuse
of protease inhibitors by IDUs may be the result of provider concerns of noncompliance
due to IDUs' unstable living conditions: 85% of subjects were unemployed,
14% were incarcerated, and 12% were homeless in the last 6 months.
Providers may exclude candidates for combination ART based on concerns
not only about current, but also past, drug use. Our data show no evidence
that prior drug use is equivalent to current drug use, based on results showing
that abstinence and stable living conditions were associated with reporting
ART use. We do not have data on physicians' clinical judgment regarding treatment
decisions or whether ART was prescribed but not taken; thus, the contribution
of these factors is unclear. Physicians may be concerned about the development
of resistance due to nonadherence. Also, HIV can be resistant not only to
protease inhibitors being taken but to those never taken by the patient,12 compounding resistance problems. The complexity required
to achieve optimal adherence may overwhelm many persons,10
especially current drug users.13 Mehta et al14 identified barriers to compliance and offered solutions
that may address some issues. Even in settings that provide free ART, less
than half of eligible IDUs in Vancouver, British Columbia, received therapy.15
Of former injectors, over two thirds report receiving ongoing medical
care, yet most report no use of protease inhibitors, suggesting that drug
use history may stigmatize them as being nonadherent. Treatment adherence
is incompletely understood, but studies show that physicians have difficulty
judging patient adherence.16-18
Those with a recent incarceration history were less likely to report
protease inhibitor use, possibly reflecting a lag in correctional system capabilities.
Correctional settings (and other venues where clients are seen consistently,
eg, methadone maintenance programs) are appropriate locations for supervising
complex therapies, although attention to care continuity after release is
Some limitations are that data on recent ART is based on self-report
and may be prone to recall error, especially for complex regimens, and the
lack of data on the proportion of those reporting no ART yet who may have
refused prescribed treatments. Most subjects who reported receiving ART named
a local provider experienced in HIV/AIDS care. We have no firm data on validity
of self-reported drug abstinence, although there is little incentive in this
setting for denying use. Also, representativeness of this sample regarding
other drug users is uncertain.
The rate of ART use in this population was low, but an encouraging trend
was seen. If some of the identified barriers to care can be resolved, appropriate
use of combination therapy could be expanded in collaboration with other institutions
(prisons, and drug abuse treatment, housing, and economic assistance programs).
An impediment to further expansion is continuing drug use, and efforts are
needed to simultaneously provide services for both HIV infection and substance
abuse. Clinicians must evaluate HIV-infected patients for active drug use,
including not only heroin and cocaine, but also so-called recreational drugs,
such as alcohol and crack cocaine, which may impair adherence.
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