'Snow blow' drug linked to record number of new HIV cases

Injecting drug users are at increased risk of infection

'Snow blow' drug linked to record number of new HIV cases

A used needle used to inject heroin sits in a pool of blood in Dublin city centre | Photo: RollingNews.ie

A record number of new HIV cases in Ireland were diagnosed in 2015, in a surge driven by drug use, according to new figures.

Provisional data published by the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) shows 491 people were newly diagnosed with the virus last year – a 30% increase on 2014 figures. 

The number of diagnoses among injecting drug users, meanwhile, rose by 67%.

HIV Ireland and the Ana Liffey Drug Project are today launching a campaign to specifically address the dangers posed by “snow blow”, a former head shop drug that leaves users at increased risk of HIV injection. 

Tony Duffin of the Ana Liffey Drug Project said: “Depending on their habit, a person who injects heroin may inject about four times a day.

“However, people who inject snow blow may inject every two hours. More injecting means more blood exposure and this means more risk.”

Case manager Paul Duff told Newstalk Breakfast reporter Kieran Cuddihy that snow blow users tend to take less precautions when injecting:

The drug is also readily available on the streets, according to one man who was a regular user:

The upward trend in new HIV cases has continued in 2016, with 231 diagnoses being recorded since the start of this year, compared to 167 during the same period in 2015.

Ireland now has an average of 10 people per week being diagnosed with the virus, according to provisional figures from the HPSC.

Mr Duffin said the evidence points to the need for supervised injecting centres in Ireland. The new Fine Gael-led coalition has committed to following through on plans to open such facilities.

But Mr Duffin said draft legislation needs to be finalised and enacted "as a matter of urgency, if we are to save lives and taxpayers’ money".