12 November 2018
Antiretroviral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is clinically efficacious and recommended for HIV prevention among people who inject drugs (PWID), but uptake remains low and intervention needs are understudied. To inform the development of PrEP interventions for PWID, we conducted a qualitative study in the Northeastern USA, a region where recent clusters of new HIV infections have been attributed to injection drug use.
We conducted qualitative interviews with 33 HIV-uninfected PWID (hereafter, “participants”) and 12 clinical and social service providers (professional “key informants”) in Boston, MA, and Providence, RI, in 2017. Trained interviewers used semi-structured interviews to explore PrEP acceptability and perceived barriers to use. Thematic analysis of coded data identified multilevel barriers to PrEP use among PWID and related intervention strategies.
Among PWID participants ( n = 33, 55% male), interest in PrEP was high, but both participants and professional key informants ( n = 12) described barriers to PrEP utilization that occurred at one or more socioecological levels. Individual-level barriers included low PrEP knowledge and limited HIV risk perception, concerns about PrEP side effects, and competing health priorities and needs due to drug use and dependence. Interpersonal-level barriers included negative experiences with healthcare providers and HIV-related stigma within social networks. Clinical barriers included poor infrastructure and capacity for PrEP delivery to PWID, and structural barriers related to homelessness, criminal justice system involvement, and lack of money or identification to get prescriptions. Participants and key informants provided some suggestions for strategies to address these multilevel barriers and better facilitate PrEP delivery to PWID.
In addition to some of the facilitators of PrEP use identified by participants and key informants, we drew on our key findings and behavioral change theory to propose additional intervention targets. In particular, to help address the multilevel barriers to PrEP uptake and adherence, we discuss ways that interventions could target information, self-regulation and self-efficacy, social support, and environmental change. PrEP is clinically efficacious and has been recommended for PWID; thus, development and testing of strategies to improve PrEP delivery to this high-risk and socially marginalized population are needed.