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Incidence of HIV infection on rise here
Fiona Gartland

The incidence of HIV infection is on the increase again in Ireland , according to a report on drugs in Europe released yesterday.

The annual report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction found that the incidence of HIV infection cases per million of population in Ireland fell to 9.8 in 2001 but rose again in 17.8 in 2004.

Of the 29 European countries surveyed, Ireland had the fourth-highest level for2004, behind only Latvia , Lithuania and Portugal . The report also found that 60 per cent of intravenous drug users tested positive for hepatitis C antibodies in Ireland in 2004.

The report said a number of public health interventions have been shown to be useful in reducing the spread of infectious diseases among drug users. Formally organised pharmacy syringe exchange or distribution networks exist in nine European countries, most of which have a rate of HIV infection of about 2.3 per million of population, it found.

A study included in the report, which looked at the mortality rate among opioid (heroin-related) users in eight European locations, found that it was six to 20 times higher compared with their peers.

In Dublin , Amsterdam , Barcelona , London , Rome and Vienna , up to 23 per cent of the overall mortality among adults aged 15 to 49 years could be attributed to opiate use, it found. The main causes were overdose, Aids, accidents and suicides.

Heroin consumed in Europe is predominantly manufactured in Afghanistan , which remains the world leader in its supply. Director of the monitoring centre, Wolfgang Gotz, said the report underlines that heroin use and drug injecting will remain major public health issues in Europe for the foreseeable future, incurring long-term costs for European healthcare systems.

“Heroin is no longer a fashionable drug and overall we see an ageing population of problem drug users accessing treatment and care. But the epidemic nature of drug problems has taught us that we may see a new generation of young people becoming vulnerable to heroin use and therefore we cannot ignore the dangers posed by a growing surplus of heroin on the global illicit market.”