A group from the REACH Lab recently published a research paper in the 36th volume of the Puerto Rico Health Science Journal. The objective of this research was to examine the social network and recruitment patterns of a sample of people who inject drugs (PWIDs) in rural Puerto Rico, in an attempt to uncover systematic clustering and between-group social boundaries that potentially influence disease spread.
Respondent driven sampling was utilized to obtain a sample of PWID in rural Puerto Rico. Through eight initial “seeds”, 317 injection drug users were recruited. Using recruitment patterns of this sample, estimates of homophily and affiliation were calculated using RDSAT.
Analyses showed clustering within the social network of PWID in rural Puerto Rico. In particular, females showed a very high tendency to recruit male PWID, which suggests low social cohesion among female PWID. Results for (believed) HCV status at the time of interview indicate that HCV+ individuals were less likely to interact with HCV- individuals or those who were unaware of their status, and may be acting as “gatekeepers” to prevent disease spread. Individuals who participated in a substance use program were more likely to affiliate with one another. The use of speedballs was related to clustering within the network, in which individuals who injected this mixture were more likely to affiliate with other speedball users.
They concluded that social clustering based on several characteristics and behaviors were found within the injecting drug user population in rural Puerto Rico. RDS was effective in not only garnering a sample of PWID in rural Puerto Rico, but also in uncovering social clustering that can potentially influence disease spread among this population.