HIV risk environments among illicit drug users: A longitudinal ethno-spatial approach

Dr. Will Small’s research program will examine the influence of social, structural and physical environments upon illicit drug users’ HIV risk behaviour and HIV treatment-related outcomes. The study is nested within a larger program that includes three epidemiological cohort studies of adult drug users and street-involved youth. This approach integrates ethnographic observational fieldwork, in-depth interviews, and geo-spatial mapping techniques with quantitative laboratory and survey data to identify how the social, structural and physical features of drug-use scenes impact HIV outcomes.

Informed by ecological perspectives on health, and the HIV risk environment framework, this study will develop and pilot a novel ethno-spatial approach to identify the complex pathways and dynamics between contextual factors shaping the risk environments of drug use and HIV prevention and treatment for drug users. Building on 10 years of experience studying illicit drug use and HIV/AIDS in the local context, this program of ethno-spatial epidemiology seeks to address the following specific aims:

  1. Examine the influence of evolving social and physical features of “drug scenes” on HIV risk behaviours and HIV incidence among drug users.
  2. Assess the influence of evolving structural and physical factors on critical initiation and transitional events (e.g. initiation into drug use or sex work; transitions in drug use patterns) among drug users and inform epidemiological models of HIV risk.
  3. Examine the impact of evolving structural and physical factors on initiation and adherence to antiretroviral therapy and suppression of HIV-1 RNA among HIV-positive drug users.
  4. Create a platform for the ongoing ethno-spatial evaluation of future public health and public policy interventions targeting drug users.