Home > New report on drug-related bloodborne viruses in Ireland.

Galvin, Brian (2018) New report on drug-related bloodborne viruses in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 67, Autumn 2018, 16 p..

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People who inject drugs (PWID) are at high risk of contracting bloodborne viruses (BBV) and comprise three-quarters of diagnosed cases of hepatitis C in Ireland. Surveillance of drug use and drug-related BBV is essential for monitoring the impact of prevention and harm reduction programmes. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) recently published a comprehensive summary of drug-related BBV in Ireland.1 The report was compiled by a collaborative group comprising representatives from several health agencies, doctors, and others active in harm reduction and drug treatment work in Ireland. The final report was authored by HPSC staff.


The aim of this report is to summarise what is currently known about drug-related BBV in Ireland. The report focuses on hepatitis C, HIV, and hepatitis B and begins by outlining problem drug use associated with an increased risk of these infections. Recent opioid prevalence data show that the numbers of those using opioids, mainly heroin, have not changed substantially between 2006 and 2014, but that a much higher proportion of those who are using these drugs are aged between 35 and 64 years.2 Incidence of opioid use is declining and National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS) data indicate a steady decline in new entrants to treatment who reported opioids as their primary problem drug between 2009 and 2016, and a decrease in the proportion who inject.3 Treatment coverage for people who use opioids is high by international standards and opioid substitution treatment (OST) is available in most parts of the country. Incidence of BBV among PWID has been declining in recent years.


With good uptake of BBV testing and the use of highly effective direct-acting antiviral drugs, it is possible to anticipate the elimination of hepatitis C in Ireland. Nevertheless, statutory notifications, studies on OST settings and in prison indicate a high prevelance of this disease in Ireland among PWID. Further, a small number of those entering treatment for cocaine use are injecting and 12% of those entering treatment in 2015 had injected at some time in the past. This cohort of PWID, along with those using new psychoactive substances, performance enhancing drugs, or chemsex drugs, are less likely to self-identify as problem drug users or avail of BBV testing, harm reduction and drug treatment services.


The report identifies gaps in knowledge and opportunities for improvements in the way information is collected and recorded. Routine monitoring would be much improved by extending electronic record-keeping of treatment information and laboratory results to facilitate easy extraction of the data for reporting. There are extensive and heavily used needle exchange services. If these services could be expanded to include BBV screening and onward referral, it would then be possible to collect data on the users of these services most at risk from BBV.


1  Health Protection Surveillance Centre (2018) Drug-related bloodborne viruses in Ireland. Dublin: Health Protection Surveillance Centre. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/29685/

2  Hay G, Jaddoa A, Oyston J, Webster J, Van Hout MC and Rael dos Santos A (2017) Estimating the prevalence of problematic opiate use in Ireland using indirect statistical methods. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27233/

3  Health Research Board (2018) Drug treatment in Ireland (NDTRS) 2010–2016. Dublin: Health Research Board. http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/28986

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