BACKGROUND: Among people who inject drugs (PWID) in New York City (NYC), racial minorities are disproportionately infected with HIV and hepatitis C (HCV). Prior research has shown that PWID who started injecting drugs in Puerto Rico (P.R.) tend to maintain the risky injection behaviors learned there. This study identifies the P.R.-native norms supporting the continued injection risk behavior of migrant Puerto Rican PWID in NYC to inform a culturally appropriate risk-reduction intervention.
METHODS: 40 migrant Puerto Rican PWID were recruited in NYC for a longitudinal qualitative study. The sample was stratified to include 20 migrants with <3 years in NYC and 20 migrants with >3-6 years in NYC. Time-location sampling was used to curb possible network bias in recruitment. Over 12 months, migrants completed semi-structured interviews at baseline, monthly follow-ups, and study exit. Analyses were guided by grounded theory.
RESULTS: Most participants (90%) reported having had chronic HCV, and 22.5% reported being HIV-positive. Syringe- and cooker-/cotton-sharing were widespread in both P.R. and NYC. The ubiquitous practice of cleaning used syringes by “water-rinsing and air-blowing” was guided by a normative belief, learned in P.R., that “water and air kill HIV.” Sterile syringe use was not a priority. HCV was not a concern. P.R.-native abstinence-only narratives discouraged opioid agonist treatment (OAT) enrollment among recent migrants (< / = 3 years). Experiences with drug dealers, prison-power groups, and injection doctors (“Gancheros”) in P.R. influenced migrants’ injection risk behavior in NYC. Those who were Gancheros in P.R. continued working as Gancheros in NYC.
CONCLUSIONS: Injection risks make migrant Puerto Rican PWID in NYC vulnerable to HIV/HCV. Harm reduction programs should pay closer attention to the rationales behind these injection risks. A risk-reduction intervention that incorporates the Ganchero figure may be a credible way to help migrants reduce injection risk and accept OAT and syringe exchange programs (SEP).
Injection risk norms and practices among migrant Puerto Rican people who inject drugs in New York City: The limits of acculturation theory
International Journal of Drug Policy, 69, 60-69. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2019.03.016. PMCID: PMC6588447.