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People who inject drugs

Drug users

The transmission of HIV through sharing equipment for injecting drugs has remained at relatively low levels in the UK, at around 4% of all diagnoses ever reported.

This is due primarily to needle exchange programmes and other harm reduction programmes, such as methadone maintenance (which is taken orally). In contrast, nearly half of HIV infections in Eastern Europe in recent years involved intravenous drug use.

In 2015, 210 people contracted HIV in this way, accounting for around 2% of the total cases of HIV that were diagnosed. This figure is slightly up from the 160 figure reported in 2014, but is mainly due to a localised outbreak among people who inject drugs in Glasgow.

People who inject drugs (PWID) who share injecting equipment are also at higher risk of infections such as hepatitis B and C. According to anonymous surveys, almost half of PWID may be infected with the more easily transmitted hepatitis C.


In 2015, around 2,500 people were living with HIV who have acquired the virus through injecting drug use. Around 315 (13%) of these are thought to be unaware of their status.

Among PWID:

  • There have been 6,175 known HIV cases among PWID from the beginning of the epidemic through to the end of 2015, which is around 4% of all cases ever diagnosed in the UK.
  • In 2015, throughout the UK, only 2% of people accessing care for HIV were PWID (1,909). This comparatively low rate out of the total ever diagnosed may be due to non-attendance at clinics and a relatively high death rate among PWID.
  • In the UK, HIV diagnoses among PWID have remained at a fairly low rate since the beginning of the epidemic compared to many other countries.



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 2/12/2016 by Kyle Christie

Date due for the next review: 2/12/2017

Content Author: D. Laycock

Current Owner: Policy

More information:

Public Health England, HIV in the United Kingdom: 2016 Report, London: Health Protection Services, Colindale. (December 2016)

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