Background: Illicit drug injecting is a well-established risk factor for morbidity and mortality. However, a limited number of prospective studies have examined the independent effect of unstable housing on mortality among persons who inject drugs (PWIDs). In this study we sought to identify if a relationship exists between unstable housing and all-cause mortality among PWIDs living in Vancouver, Canada.
Methods: PWIDs participating in two prospective cohort studies in Vancouver, Canada were followed between May 1996 and December 2012. Cohort data were linked to the provincial vital statistics database to ascertain mortality rates and causes of death. We used multivariate Cox proportional hazards regression to determine factors associated with all-cause mortality and to investigate the independent relationship between unstable housing and time to all-cause mortality.
Results: During the study period, 2453 individuals were followed for a median of 69 months (Inter-quartile range [IQR]: 34 - 113). In total, there were 515 (21.0%) deaths for an incidence density of 3.1 (95% Confidence Interval [CI]: 2.8 - 3.4) deaths per 100 person years. In multivariate analyses, after adjusting for potential confounders including HIV infection and drug use patterns, unstable housing remained independently associated with all-cause mortality (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR] = 1.30, 95% CI: 1.08 - 1.56).
Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that unstable housing is an important risk factor for mortality independent of known risk factors including HIV infection and patterns of drug use. This study highlights the urgent need to provide supportive housing interventions to address elevated levels of preventable mortality among this population.