Estimating the number of persons who inject drugs in the United States by meta-analysis to calculate national rates of HIV and hepatitis C virus infections


BACKGROUND: Injection drug use provides an efficient mechanism for transmitting bloodborne viruses, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Effective targeting of resources for prevention of HIV and HCV infection among persons who inject drugs (PWID) is based on knowledge of the population size and disparity in disease burden among PWID. This study estimated the number of PWID in the United States to calculate rates of HIV and HCV infection. METHODS: We conducted meta-analysis using data from 4 national probability surveys that measured lifetime (3 surveys) or past-year (3 surveys) injection drug use to estimate the proportion of the United States population that has injected drugs. We then applied these proportions to census data to produce population size estimates. To estimate the disease burden among PWID by calculating rates of disease we used lifetime population size estimates of PWID as denominators and estimates of HIV and HCV infection from national HIV surveillance and survey data, respectively, as numerators. We calculated rates of HIV among PWID by gender-, age-, and race/ethnicity. RESULTS: Lifetime PWID comprised 2.6% (95% confidence interval: 1.8%-3.3%) of the U.S. population aged 13 years or older, representing approximately 6,612,488 PWID (range: 4,583,188-8,641,788) in 2011. The population estimate of past-year PWID was 0.30% (95% confidence interval: 0.19 %-0.41%) or 774,434 PWID (range: 494,605-1,054,263). Among lifetime PWID, the 2011 HIV diagnosis rate was 55 per 100,000 PWID; the rate of persons living with a diagnosis of HIV infection in 2010 was 2,147 per 100,000 PWID; and the 2011 HCV infection rate was 43,126 per 100,000 PWID. CONCLUSION: Estimates of the number of PWID and disease rates among PWID are important for program planning and addressing health inequities.


Lansky A, Finlayson T, Johnson C, Holtzman D, Wejnert C, Mitsch A, Gust D, Chen R, Mizuno Y, Crepaz N.




  • Epidemiology and Determinants of Health
    • Epidemiology
  • Population(s)
    • People who use drugs
  • Prevention
    • Drug use behaviours/harm reduction
  • Substance Use
    • Nonmedicinal drugs
  • Co-infections
    • Hepatitis B, C


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