HEALTH authorities are investigating whether a banned head shop drug called 'snow blow' is behind a spike in HIV in Dublin.
The Director of Public Health in Dublin, Dr Margaret Fitzgerald, has formed a team to investigate the increase in the disease.
There have been 15 new cases of HIV in the capital in just a year, with another probable case also identified.
Another 16 cases are being probed, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).
Drug service workers in the capital are concerned that the banned drug mephedrone (snow blow) could be behind the spike.
The stimulant drug, which was previously sold in head shops before they were outlawed, is injected more often than other drug. It is also linked to unsafe sexual practices and needle sharing.
People who use snow blow are often chaotic drug users who are frequently homeless, the HPSC said.
Recently the Herald spoke to a homeless heroin addict who explained that he, like many other users, inject snow blow.
A controlled case study is now under way to examine the links between the drug and the higher transmission rate of HIV.
The health body is also evaluating whether extended opening hours are needed for needle exchanges in the capital.
Tony Duffin, Director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, said stimulant use posed a complex problem.
"In our experience at Ana Liffey, people injecting stimulants typically inject more often than those injecting heroin," he said.
"More injecting means more risk, particularly in regard to the transmission of blood-borne viruses like HIV or hepatitis.
"This is especially true where people are injecting in unsanitary conditions, like city centre laneways.
"It can be difficult to motivate people to get tested and treated, due to the chaos of their lifestyle and the understandable fear of being diagnosed with an illness like HIV."