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Recreational drugs and STI diagnoses among patients attending an STI/HIV reference clinic in Rome, Italy


Background An observational study was conducted to assess recreational drug use in association with recent STIs among clients of an STI/HIV reference centre in Rome, Italy.

Methods Attendees self-compiled a questionnaire concerning sexual behaviours and drug use, including the nine drugs used for sex (amphetamines, poppers, cocaine, ketamine, erectile dysfunction agent (EDA), steroids and the three chemsex drugs, ie, chems: γ-hydroxybutyric acid/γ-butyrolactone, crystal and Mcat).

Results Overall, 703 patients participated, with men who have sex with men (MSM) accounting for 50.4% of the total and 73.2% of HIV-positive patients. Apart from condylomatosis, whose prevalence was higher among females (38.8%) and non-MSM (45.8%) than MSM (14.4%), STIs were more frequent among MSM, particularly syphilis (14.1%), gonorrhoea (4.8%), urethritis (3.4%) and hepatitis A (6.5%). Recreational drug use was significantly more frequent among MSM (39.8% vs 17.6% in females and 22.7% in non-MSM). A total of 26.3% of MSM used at least one of the nine drugs and 5.1% at least one of the three chems. Cocaine (13.3%) and poppers (13.0%) were the most used sex drugs in MSM.

The use of any of the nine drugs was associated with being MSM (adjusted OR (AOR): 1.94, 95% CI 1.05 to 3.58), sex with partner contacted online (1.99, 95% CI 1.14 to 3.45), group sex (4.08, 95% CI 2.40 to 6.93) and STI in the last year (1.65, 95% CI 1.05 to 2.61). Use of any of the nine chems among MSM was associated with condomless sex (2.24, 95% CI 1.21 to 4.14), group sex (2.08, 95% CI 1.01 to 4.31) and STI diagnosis in the last year (4.08, 95% CI 2.32 to 7.19).

Conclusions Our data suggest that recreational drug use is quite common among MSM in Italy. No evidence of association with STI was found among non-MSM and females, where only cannabis and cocaine use was reported. The use of chems is still limited, but cocaine, poppers and EDA are widely used among MSM. Recreational drug use appears associated with high-risk sexual behaviours and a higher risk of STI.

  • sexual behaviour
  • substance misuse
  • infectious diseases
  • gay men

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