Young age predicts poor antiretroviral adherence and viral load suppression among injection drug users

AIDS Patient Care STDS. 2012 May;26(5):274-80. doi: 10.1089/apc.2011.0196. Epub 2012 Mar 19.


Previous studies of adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV among young injection drug users (IDU) have been limited because financial barriers to care disproportionately affect youth, thus confounding results. This study examines adherence among IDU in a unique setting where all medical care is provided free-of-charge. From May 1996 to April 2008, we followed a prospective cohort of 545 HIV-positive IDU of 18 years of age or older in Vancouver, Canada. Using generalized estimating equations (GEE), we studied the association between age and adherence (obtaining ART≥95% of the prescribed time), controlling for potential confounders. Using Cox proportional hazards regression, we also studied the effect of age on time to viral load suppression (<500 copies per milliliter), and examined adherence as a mediating variable. Five hundred forty-five participants were followed for a median of 23.8 months (interquartile range [IQR]=8.5-91.6 months). Odds of adherence were significantly lower among younger IDU (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=0.76 per 10 years younger; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.65-0.89). Younger IDU were also less likely to achieve viral load suppression (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR]=0.75 per 10 years younger; 95% CI, 0.64-0.88). Adding adherence to the model eliminated this association with age, supporting the role of adherence as a mediating variable. Despite absence of financial barriers, younger IDU remain less likely to adhere to ART, resulting in inferior viral load suppression. Interventions should carefully address the unique needs of young HIV-positive IDU.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anti-HIV Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Seropositivity / drug therapy*
  • HIV Seropositivity / mortality
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prospective Studies
  • RNA, Viral
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / drug therapy*
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / mortality
  • Viral Load / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • RNA, Viral