By Mary Clare Kennedy, Kanna Hayashi, M-J Milloy, Evan Wood, Thomas Kerr

Background

People who inject drugs (PWID) experience elevated rates of premature mortality. Although previous studies have demonstrated the role of supervised injection facilities (SIFs) in reducing various harms associated with injection drug use, including accidental overdose death, the possible impact of SIF use on all-cause mortality is unknown. Therefore, we examined the relationship between frequent SIF use and all-cause mortality among PWID in Vancouver, Canada.

Methods and findings

Data were derived from 2 prospective cohort studies of PWID in Vancouver, Canada, between December 2006 and June 2017. Every 6 months, participants completed questionnaires that elicited information regarding sociodemographic characteristics, substance use patterns, social-structural exposures, and use of health services including SIFs. These data were confidentially linked to the provincial vital statistics database to ascertain mortality rates and causes of death. We used multivariable extended Cox regression analyses to estimate the independent association between frequent (i.e., at least weekly) SIF use and all-cause mortality. Of 811 participants, 278 (34.3%) were women, and the median age was 39 years (IQR 33–46) at baseline. In total, 432 (53.3%) participants reported frequent SIF use at baseline, and 379 (46.7%) did not. At baseline, frequent SIF users were on average younger than nonfrequent users, and a higher proportion of frequent SIF users than nonfrequent users were unstably housed, resided in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, injected in public, had a recent non-fatal overdose, used prescription opioids at least daily, injected heroin at least daily, injected cocaine at least daily, and injected crystal methamphetamine at least daily. A lower proportion of frequent SIF users than nonfrequent users were HIV positive and enrolled in addiction treatment at baseline. The median duration of follow-up among study participants was 72 months (IQR 24–123). In total, 112 participants (13.8%) died during the study period, yielding a crude mortality rate of 22.7 (95% CI 18.7–27.4) deaths per 1,000 person-years. The median years of potential life lost per death was 34 (IQR 27–42) years. In a time-updated multivariable model, frequent SIF use was inversely associated with risk of all-cause mortality after adjusting for potential confounders, including age, sex, HIV seropositivity, unstable housing, at least daily cocaine injection, public injection, incarceration, enrolment in addiction treatment, and calendar year of interview (adjusted hazard ratio 0.46, 95% CI 0.26–0.80, p = 0.006). The main study limitations are the limited generalizability of findings due to non-random sampling, the potential for reporting biases due to reliance on some self-reported information, and the possibility that residual confounding influenced findings.

Conclusions

We observed a high burden of premature mortality among a community-recruited cohort of PWID. Frequent SIF use was associated with a lower risk of death, independent of relevant confounders. These findings support efforts to enhance access to SIFs as a strategy to reduce mortality among PWID. Further analyses of individual-level data are needed to determine estimates of, and potential causal pathways underlying, associations between SIF use and specific causes of death.