What Is 'Snow-Blow' And Why Is It Linked To The Rise Of HIV In Ireland?

By Paul Gaita 11/11/15

The rise in 'snow blow' use has led to an increase of risky behaviors.

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A surge in the number of new cases of HIV among intravenous drug users in the Irish capital city of Dublin has been attributed to a psychoactive drug known as “snow blow,” which various news outlets have defined as either alpha-PVP, or flakka, or mephedrone, more commonly known as "meow meow."

The country’s Health Service Executive (HSE) has reported 22 confirmed cases and an additional five probable cases of recently acquired HIV among IV drug users in Dublin from June 2014 to June 2015; 11 additional cases are currently under investigation.

A public health team from the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Center found that the prevalence of the drug in the Irish capital—due to its relatively low price and immediate efficacy—has led to an increase in injections, which in turn have given rise to related behavior, including unsafe sexual activity and needle sharing, which increases the chances of contracting HIV.

The Irish press has reported an influx of snow blow use in the last 12 months, with some sources reporting dealers leaving free samples of  drugs at apartments and homes of young professionals. However, the HSE health team found a greater incidence of IV use among the city’s homeless population, with more than three-fourths of those reported infected also registered with the homeless accommodation services in Dublin.

The chaotic lifestyle of these individuals poses an even greater problem in combating the spread and impact of drugs like snow blow. “There are no simple solutions; this is a complex problem,” said Tony Duffin of the Ana Liffey Drug Project. “People injecting drugs can be hard to reach, can have a combination of problems like mental health difficulties and homelessness, and can often find it difficult to access mainstream health services.”

The HSE is currently advising family doctors and medical professionals working in homeless shelters and hospital clinics about the problem.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.