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J Int AIDS Soc. 2015 Feb 26;18(2 Suppl 1):19442. doi: 10.7448/IAS.18.2.19442. eCollection 2015.

"We don't need services. We have no problems": exploring the experiences of young people who inject drugs in accessing harm reduction services.

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Youth RISE, London, UK;
UNAIDS, Geneva, Switzerland.



Evidence suggests that people who inject drugs often begin their drug use and injecting practices in adolescence, yet there are limited data available on the HIV epidemic and the responses for this population. The comprehensive package of interventions for the prevention, treatment and care of HIV infection among people who inject drugs first laid out in 2009 (revised in 2012) by World Health Organization, United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, does not consider the unique needs of adolescent and young people. In order to better understand the values and preferences of young people who inject drugs in accessing harm reduction services and support, we undertook a series of community consultations with young people with experience of injecting drugs during adolescence.


Community consultations (4-14 persons) were held in 14 countries. Participants were recruited using a combined criterion and maximum variation sampling strategy. Data were analyzed using collaborative qualitative data analysis. Frequency analysis of themes was conducted.


Nineteen community consultations were organized with a total of 132 participants. All participants had experienced injecting drugs before the age of 18. They had the following age distribution: 18-20 (37%), 21-25 (48%) and 26-30 (15%). Of the participants, 73.5% were male while 25.7% were female, with one transgender participant. Barriers to accessing the comprehensive package included: lack of information and knowledge of services, age restrictions on services, belief that services were not needed, fear of law enforcement, fear of stigma, lack of concern, high cost, lack of outreach, lack of knowledge of HCV/TB and lack of youth friendly services.


The consultations provide a rare insight into the lived experiences of adolescents who inject drugs and highlight the dissonance between their reality and current policy and programmatic approaches. Findings suggest that harm reduction and HIV policies and programmes should adapt the comprehensive package to reach young people and explore linkages to other sectors such as education and employment to ensure they are fully supported and protected. Continued participation of the community of young people who inject drugs can help ensure policy and programmes respond to the social exclusion and denial of rights and prevent HIV infection among adolescents who inject drugs.


HIV; adolescents; drugs; harm reduction; injecting drug use; young people

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