Injection drug use goes hand in hand with infectious illnesses spread through contact with blood, such as Hepatitis C and HIV - in part due to decreased inhibitions leading to risky behavior. Since HIV can survive in a syringe for over a month, unsafe syringe sharing practices also lead to significant risk of disease spread. Over 1/3 of people who inject drugs (or PWID) share syringes and other equipment such as cookers.  

Because PWID are at such high risk for contracting HIV, it is vitally important that they receive frequent HIV testing along with access to syringes and other equipment that decrease the spread of HIV.  Often, the current healthcare system expects all of these patients to come to them to receive testing, however it is unlikely that will occur given the nature of the disease, stigma, and other barriers to care (transportation, lack of insurance coverage).  According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 55% of people who inject drugs were tested for HIV in the past year.

For this reason, our customers use our mobile clinic services to meet these patients where they already are - by providing HIV and Hepatitis C testing at sites such as methadone clinics and rehabilitation centers. It is not surprising that many patients they encounter say they have never been offered testing before. When you work with Alchemy, think about the mission and goal of our partnership being to go out into the community and find that 45% of patients that need testing. 

In addition to offering testing, many of our clinics are also trying to decrease the spread of HIV and other bloodborne disease by offering needle exchange programs and other equipment for safe drug use anonymously (such as Narcan and fentanyl test strips at no cost to patients). These Syringe services programs (SSPs) are community-based prevention programs that provide a range of services, including access to sterile needles and syringes, facilitation of safe disposal of used syringes, and provide and link people to other important services and programs, such as substance use disorder treatment, vaccination, testing, and linkage to care and treatment for infectious diseases.

For people who test positive, it is important that they start HIV treatment right away. Once a patient’s viral load reaches undetectable, they no longer are able to spread HIV to others. These clinics are heroes in that aspect, and closely work with patients to overcome insurance challenges and other barriers to care so that patients can be treated as soon as possible.

Fentanyl test strips and Injection drug use safety kits (bleach, a cooker, cotton swab, alcohol swab and band-aid) can be found in restrooms of many of our partner STD clinics.

Source: CDC HIV and people who inject drugs

Susie Crowe

Founder & Chief Pharmacist