BACKGROUND: Coverage is used as one indicator of needle and syringe program (NSP) effectiveness. At the individual level, coverage is typically defined as an estimate of the proportion of a person who injects drugs' (PWID) injecting episodes that utilise a sterile syringe. In this paper, we explore levels of individual syringe coverage and its changes over time. METHODS: Data were extracted from 1889 interviews involving 502 participants drawn from the Melbourne drug user cohort study (MIX). We asked questions relating to participants syringe acquisition, distribution and injecting frequency within the two weeks before interview. We created a dichotomous coverage variable that classified participants as sufficiently (>/=100 %) covered if all their injecting episodes utilised at least one sterile syringe, and insufficiently (<100 %) covered if not. We categorised participants as “consistently covered” if they were sufficiently covered across interviews; as “consistently uncovered” if they were insufficiently covered across interviews; and “inconsistently covered” if they oscillated between coverage states. Chi-square statistics tested proportions of insufficient coverage across sub-groups using broad demographic, drug use and service utilisation domains. Logistic regression tested predictors of insufficient coverage and inconsistently covered categorisation. RESULTS: Across the sample, levels of insufficient coverage were substantial (between 22-36 % at each interview wave). The majority (50 %) were consistently covered across interviews, though many (45 %) were inconsistently covered. We found strong statistical associations between insufficient coverage and current hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection (RNA+). Current prescription of opioid substitution therapy (OST) and using NSPs as the main source of syringe acquisition were protective against insufficient coverage. CONCLUSION: Insufficient coverage across the sample was substantial and mainly driven by those who oscillated between states of coverage, suggesting the presence of temporal factors. We recommend a general expansion of NSP services and OST prescription to encourage increases in syringe coverage.
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The MIX study was funded by The Colonial Foundation Trust and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC Grant #545891). DO’K receives support from the NHMRC through a postgraduate scholarship. PD is an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow. The authors gratefully acknowledge the contribution to this work of the Victorian Operational Infrastructure Support Program’s support of the Burnet Institute.