Surge in new HIV cases linked to ‘snow blow’ drug use

A surge in the number of new cases of HIV among intravenous drug users in Dublin this year has been linked to the growing use of a new drug known as “snow blow”.

The HSE has expressed concern about the scale of the increase in the capital, particularly among the city’s homeless population.

Last month, Europe’s leading drugs agency warned about the growing danger of snow blow — a relatively new psychoactive substance — which has already been linked to at least four deaths in Ireland.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said data on snow blow, officially known as alpha-PVP, showed it is used by both recreational and high-risk drug-users.

The HSE has reported 22 confirmed cases and five probable cases of recently acquired HIV infection among drug-users in Dublin in the 12-month period to June 2015.

A further 11 possible cases are also under investigation, while the HSE stated that new cases continue to be detected.

A multidisciplinary team, established earlier this year to investigate and respond to the upsurge, believes the growing prevalence of snow blow may be associated with an increase in unsafe injecting practices, high-risk sexual behaviour and acquisition of HIV.

Doctors treating drug- users said those injecting snow blow generally exhibit increased chaotic behaviour, sharing of needles and syringes, and unprotected sex.

“It’s something about which we are very concerned, as a lot of people on the drug behave very chaotically,” said Dr Eamonn Keenan, consultant psychiatrist in substance abuse and clinical director of the National Drug Treatment Centre in Dublin.

He attributed the growing prevalence of snow blow to the fact that it was comparatively cheap and provided “an instant hit”.

The results of a case-control study on chaotic drug users just published show there were 38 confirmed and probable cases of HIV infection since the start of 2014. Of these, 16 were female, while the median age was 35 years.

More than three quarters of those infected have been registered with the homeless accommodation services in Dublin. In general, approximately half of all people attending the National Drug Treatment Centre in Dublin are homeless.

In 18 of 20 cases where information was available, the individuals had reported injecting snow blow. A total of 13 individuals reported using both snow blow and engaging in unsafe sex. One death was recorded among those surveyed.

The study showed that the odds of having recent HIV infection were highest in those who had reported injecting snow blow daily.

The HSE has advised family doctors and other medical staff working in addiction and homeless services and hospital clinics about the problem.


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