Background. We characterized temporal trends in highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) initiation (1996–2008) among treatment-eligible persons in a community-based cohort of current and former injection drug users (IDUs) in Baltimore, Maryland.
Methods. The AIDS Linked to the IntraVenous Experience (ALIVE) cohort has been observing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-positive IDUs since 1988. HAART eligibility was defined as the first visit after 1 January 1996 at which the patient's CD4+ cell count was <350 cells/µL. Temporal trends and predictors of HAART initiation were examined using χ2 tests for trend and lognormal survival models.
Results. The median age of 582 HAART-eligible IDUs was 41 years; 75% of the subjects were male, 97% were African American, and 60% were active IDUs. Of these 582 individuals, 345 initiated HAART over 1803 personyears (19.2 subjects per 100 person-years; 95% confidence interval, 17.2-21.3 subjects per 100 person-years); there was no statistically significant temporal trend in HAART initiation. Independent predictors of delayed initiation included heavy injection drug use; having a prior AIDS diagnosis, having a lower CD4+ cell count, having a usual source of care, and having health insurance were predictors of more-rapid initiation. The delay between eligibility and initiation decreased among those who became eligible most recently (2003-2007), compared with those in earlier periods (1996-2002); however, a substantial number of patients who became eligible in recent years either initiated HAART after a substantial delay or did not initiate HAART at all.
Conclusions. We failed to observe substantial improvement in HAART initiation among current and former IDUs over a 12-year period; heavy use of injection drugs remains the major barrier to HAART initiation and to consistent HIV care. The fact that many IDUs initiate HAART after a significant delay or do not initiate it at all raises concern that disparities in HIV care for IDUs remain at a time of simplified antiretroviral regimens and increasing adoption of earlier treatment.
Figure 3. Temporal trends in treatment initiation in the AIDS Linked to the IntraVenous Experience (ALIVE) cohort, 1996–2008. This figure presents data on trends by calendar year of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) initiation and calendar period of eligibility. Calendar period of eligibility is defined as 1996–1998, 1999–2002, and 2003–2007. Lines represent the median months between eligibility for treatment and initiation for each of the 3 periods of eligibility. Bars represent the median CD4+ cell count at the time of initiation for each of the 3 periods of eligibility. Listed at the bottom of the figure are the numbers of individuals who initiated HAART in each year according to the calendar period of when they became eligible and the numbers of individuals who were still being followed-up but had not yet initiated HAART by that calendar year according to the calendar period of when they became eligible.