Mortality among persons who inject #drugs: A prospective cohort followed over three decades in Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Over the past decades, people who inject drugs (PWID) have been impacted by the development of combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) to combat HIV/AIDS, the prescription opioid crisis, and increased use of lethal synthetic opioids. We measured how these dynamics have impacted mortality among PWID in an urban U.S. city.

Design
Prospective cohort study using data from the AIDS Linked to the Intravenous Experience (ALIVE)

Setting
Baltimore, Maryland, USA from 1988-2018.

Participants
5,506 adult PWIDs (median age at baseline 37 years).

Measurements
Mortality was identified by linkage to National Death Index-Plus (NDI-Plus) and categorized into HIV/infectious disease (HIV/ID) deaths, overdose and violence-related (drug-related) deaths, and chronic-disease deaths. Person-time at risk accrued from baseline, and ended at the earliest of death or study period. All-cause and cause-specific mortality were calculated annually. Fine and Gray method was used to estimate the sub-distribution hazards of cause-specific deaths accounting for competing risks.

Findings
Among 5,506 participants with 84,011 person-years of follow-up, 43.9% were deceased by 2018. Among all deaths, 30.5% were HIV/ID-deaths, 24.4% drug-related deaths, and 33.3% chronic-disease deaths. Age-standardized all-cause mortality increased from 23 to 45 per 1000-person-years from 1988-1996, declined from 1996 through 2012, then trended upward through 2018. HIV/ID-deaths peaked in 1996 coincident with the availability of cART, then continuously declined. Chronic-disease deaths increased continuously as the cohort aged. Drug-related deaths declined until 2011, but increased over 4-fold by 2018. HIV/HCV infection and active injecting were independently associated with HIV/ID and drug-related deaths. Female and Black participants had higher risk of dying from HIV/ID deaths and a lower risk of dying from drug-related deaths than male and non-Black participants.

Conclusions
Deaths in Baltimore, Maryland, USA attributable to HIV/ID appear to have declined following the widespread use of combination antiretroviral therapy. Increases in the rates of drug-related deaths in Baltimore were observed prior to and continue in conjunction with national mortality rates associated with the opiate crisis

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