Can home-made injectable opiates contribute to the HIV epidemic among injection drug users in the countries of the former Soviet Union?

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Abstract

Aims

Home-made preparation of heroin is common in countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU), and the addition of blood during its preparation and the use of contaminated syringes to distribute it may play a role in the rapid spread of HIV-1 among injecting drug users (IDUs). This study was designed to determine the viability of HIV-1 during these procedures.

Setting

Field observations of home-made opiate manufacture in four FSU countries were used to develop a consensus protocol to replicate manufacture in the laboratory that included the addition of human blood contaminated with HIV-1.

Design and measurement

Following the addition of HIV-1-contaminated blood during manufacture or storage, we attempted to recover viable HIV-1. The recovery was measured by propagation of the virus in stimulated white blood cells from uninfected donors.

Findings

In experiments in which HIV-1 contaminated blood was added during manufacture, no viable HIV-1 was recovered. In experiments in which chornaya was introduced into HIV-contaminated syringes, the percentage of syringes containing viable HIV-1 was reduced. The reduction appeared to be related to the interaction of HIV-1 contaminated blood with a component of the poppies. While HIV-contaminated syringes used to dispense or inject home-made opiates might transmit HIV, the ability of chornaya to reduce HIV viability seems to make this route of transmission less efficient.

Conclusions

The epidemic of HIV-1 among IDUs in the FSU resulted more probably from recognized injection risk behaviors—including sharing syringes and drug solutions—than from opiate solutions harboring viable HIV-1.

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