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Large decline in injecting drug use in Amsterdam, 1986–1998: explanatory mechanisms and determinants of injecting transitions
  1. E J C van Ameijdena,
  2. R A Coutinhob
  1. aTrimbos Institute (Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction), Utrecht, the Netherlands, bMunicipal Health Service, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  1. Dr van Ameijden, Trimbos Institute, Department of Monitoring and Epidemiology, PO Box 725, 3500 AS Utrecht, the Netherlands (eameijden{at}


OBJECTIVES To study community wide trends in injecting prevalence and trends in injecting transitions, and determinants.

DESIGN Open cohort study with follow up every four months (Amsterdam Cohort Study). Generalised estimating equations were used for statistical analysis.

SETTING Amsterdam has adopted a harm reduction approach as drug policy.

PARTICIPANTS 996 drug users who were recruited from 1986 to 1998, mainly at methadone programmes, who paid 13 620 cohort visits.

MAIN RESULTS The prevalence of injecting decreased exponentially (66% to 36% in four to six monthly periods). Selective mortality and migration could maximally explain 33% of this decline. Instead, injecting initiation linearly decreased (4.1% to 0.7% per visit), cessation exponentially increased (10.0% to 17.1%), and relapse linearly decreased (21.3% to 11.8%). Non-injecting cocaine use (mainly pre-cooked, comparable to crack) and heroin use strongly increased. Trends were not attributable to changes in the study sample.

CONCLUSIONS Harm reduction, including large scale needle exchange programmes, does not lead to an increase in injecting drug use. The injecting decline seems mainly attributable to ecological factors (for example, drug culture and market). Prevention of injecting is possible and peer-based interventions may be effective. The consequences of the recent upsurge in crack use requires further study.

  • substance abuse
  • surveillance
  • cohort studies

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  • Funding: this study was supported by the Netherlands Foundation for Preventive Medicine as part of the Stimulation Program on AIDS Research of the Program Committee for AIDS Research (PccAo) (grant no 28–1258).

  • Conflicts of interest: none.