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Competing forces of withdrawal and disease avoidance in the risk networks of people who inject drugs.

Abstract

We analyze a network of needle-sharing ties among 117 people who inject drugs (PWID) in rural Puerto Rico, using exponential random graph modeling to examine whether network members engage in partner restriction to lower their risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C (HCV), or in informed altruism to prevent others from contracting these infections. Although sharing of used syringes is a significant risk factor for transmission of these diseases among PWID, we find limited evidence for partner restriction or informed altruism in the network of reported needle-sharing ties. We find however that sharing of needles is strongly reciprocal, and individuals with higher injection frequency are more likely to have injected with a used needle. Drawing on our ethnographic work, we discuss how the network structures we observe may relate to a decision-making rationale focused on avoiding withdrawal sickness, which leads to risk-taking behaviors in this poor, rural context where economic considerations often lead PWID to cooperate in the acquisition and use of drugs.

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