Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from HRJ and BioMed Central.

Open Access Open Badges Research

Estimating the number of injection drug users in greater Victoria, Canada using capture-recapture methods

Yuan Xu1, Murray Fyfe2, Liz Walker2 and Laura LE Cowen1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Victoria, PO Box 3060 STN CSC, Victoria, BC V8W 3R4, Canada

2 Vancouver Island Health Authority, #430-1900 Richmond Avenue, Victoria, BC V8R 4R2, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

Harm Reduction Journal 2014, 11:9  doi:10.1186/1477-7517-11-9

Published: 3 March 2014



Population size estimation is critical for planning public health programmes for injection drug users. Estimation is difficult, as these populations are considered 'hidden’ or 'hard to reach’. The currently accepted population size estimate for greater Victoria, Canada is between 1,500 and 2,000 individuals, which is dated prior to the year 2000, and is likely an underestimate.


We used three mark-recapture methods (the Lincoln-Petersen estimator, Huggins' model, and Pledger's model) to estimate population size using cross-sectional survey data collected in 2003 and 2005. Data come from a closed population with two time-ordered samples from the same source. We compare our estimates with the currently accepted estimate that is based on the registry of a Victoria needle exchange.


All methods provided population size estimates that were higher than the currently accepted estimate. Huggins' method produced wider confidence intervals. Point estimates of population size from the three methods ranged from 3,329 to 3,342.


Our estimates will aid health authorities in planning for harm reduction programmes. Repeating the methods as further phases of I-Track data become available will ensure that the population estimates remain up to date.

Injection drug user; Public health; Capture-recapture; Population size