Variation in HIV transmission behaviors among people who use drugs in rural US communities

IMPORTANCE: People who use drugs (PWUD) continue to be at risk of HIV infection, but the frequency and distribution of transmission-associated behaviors within various rural communities is poorly understood.

OBJECTIVE: To examine the association of characteristics of rural PWUD with HIV transmission behaviors.

DESIGN, SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: In this cross-sectional study, surveys of PWUD in rural communities in 10 states (Illinois, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) were collected January 2018 through March 2020 and analyzed August through December 2022. A chain-referral sampling strategy identified convenience sample seeds who referred others who used drugs. Rural PWUD who reported any past 30-day injection drug use or noninjection opioid use “to get high” were included.

EXPOSURES: Individual characteristics, including age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, partnership status, drug of choice, and location, were collected.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Past 30-day frequency of behaviors associated with HIV transmission, including drug injection, syringe sharing, opposite- and same-gender partners, transactional sex, and condomless sex, was assessed.

RESULTS: Of 3048 rural PWUD (mean [SD] age, 36.1 [10.3] years; 225 American Indian [7.4%], 96 Black [3.2%], and 2576 White [84.5%] among 3045 with responses; and 1737 men [57.0%] among 3046 with responses), most participants were heterosexual (1771 individuals [86.8%] among 2040 with responses) and single (1974 individuals [68.6%] among 2879 with responses). Opioids and stimulants were reported as drug of choice by 1636 individuals (53.9%) and 1258 individuals (41.5%), respectively, among 3033 individuals with responses. Most participants reported recent injection (2587 of 3046 individuals [84.9%] with responses) and condomless sex (1406 of 1757 individuals [80.0%] with responses), among whom 904 of 1391 individuals (65.0%) with responses indicated that it occurred with people who inject drugs. Syringe sharing (1016 of 2433 individuals [41.8%] with responses) and transactional sex (230 of 1799 individuals [12.8%] with responses) were reported less frequently. All characteristics and behaviors, except the number of men partners reported by women, varied significantly across locations (eg, mean [SD] age ranged from 34.5 [10.0] years in Wisconsin to 39.7 [11.0] years in Illinois; P < .001). In multivariable modeling, younger age (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] for ages 15-33 vs =34 years, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.08-1.72) and being single (aOR, 1.37; 95% CI, 1.08-1.74) were associated with recent injection; younger age (aOR, 1.49; 95% CI, 1.20-1.85) and bisexual orientation (aOR vs heterosexual orientation, 2.27; 95% CI, 1.60-3.23) with syringe sharing; gender identity as a woman (aOR vs gender identity as a man, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.01-2.12), bisexual orientation (aOR vs heterosexual orientation, 2.59; 95% CI, 1.67-4.03), and being single (aOR, 1.71; 95% CI, 1.15-2.55) with transactional sex; and bisexual orientation (aOR vs heterosexual orientation, 1.60; 95% CI, 1.04-2.46) and stimulants as the drug of choice (aOR vs opioids, 1.45; 95 CI, 1.09-1.93) with condomless sex with someone who injects drugs.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: This study found that behaviors associated with HIV transmission were common and varied across communities. These findings suggest that interventions to reduce HIV risk among rural PWUD may need to be tailored to locally relevant factors.

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Full citation:
Jenkins WD, Friedman SR, Hurt CB, Korthuis PT, Feinberg J, Del Toro-Mejias LM, Walters S, Seal DW, Fredericksen RJ, Westergaard R, Miller WC, Go VF, Schneider J, Giurcanu M (2023).
Variation in HIV transmission behaviors among people who use drugs in rural US communities
JAMA Network Open, 6 (8), e2330225. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.30225. PMCID: PMC10442709.