Opt-Out Policy at a Syringe Service Program Increased HIV/HCV Testing

Mark S. Lesney, PhD

November 19, 2020

Bundled opt-out HIV/hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing increased the percentage of syringe service program (SSP) clients who received HIV and HCV rapid tests at enrollment into the program. Researchers conducted a retrospective comparative analysis of patient testing patterns before and after opt-out policy implementation in a single SSP program, according to a report published online in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Because HCV is the most common infectious disease among people who inject drugs (PWID), engaging PWID in harm reduction services, such as SSPs, is critical to reduce HCV and HIV transmission, according to Tyler S. Bartholomew of the University of Miami, and colleagues. They added that testing for HIV and HCV among PWID is important for improvement of diagnosis and linkage to care.

Their study, conducted in the 37 months between December 2016 and January 2020 assessed 512 SSP participants 15 months prior to and 547 SSP participants 22 months after implementation of bundled HIV/HCV opt-out testing.

Opt-Out Optimal

There was a significant increase in uptake of HIV/HCV testing by 42.4% (95% confidence interval, 26.2%-58.5%; P < 0.001) immediately after the policy changed to opt-out testing, according to the researchers. In addition, they found that the significant predictors of accepting both HIV/HCV tests were cocaine injection (adjusted odds ratio, 2.36), self-reported HIV-positive status (aOR, 0.39), and self-reported HCV-positive status (aOR, 0.27).

The authors explained that participants who injected cocaine in the previous 30 days, compared with other drugs, might have had higher odds of accepting HIV/HCV testing because of their known added risk factors. Previous studies have shown that people who use stimulants describe higher rates of condomless sex, sex work, and sex in exchange for money or drugs, compared with people who use nonstimulant drugs.

"Our paper is the first of which we are aware to suggest that implementation of routine opt-out HIV/HCV testing among PWID at SSPs could enhance HIV/HCV testing among this high incidence population," the researchers concluded.

The authors reported funding from the National Cancer Institute and the Frontlines of Communities in the United States, a program of Gilead Sciences. They provided no other disclosures.

SOURCE: Bartholomew TS et al. Int J Drug Policy. 2020; doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2020.102875.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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