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January 18, 2007

Drug Treatment Seekers More Likely to Use Needle Exchange

A new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined the connection between Baltimore City’s needle exchange program and drug treatment programs. Individuals who enter treatment programs for drug addiction were more likely to be HIV-positive females who use the Baltimore City needle exchange programs. The study highlights the need for treatment facilities to address co-occurring problems, such as HIV and mental illness. It is published in the December 2006 edition of the journal Substance Use & Misuse.

“Needle exchange programs and drug user treatment centers are two effective strategies to reduce HIV infections and drug abuse,” explained Carl A. Latkin, PhD, lead author of the study and a professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society. “Needle exchange programs reduce the number of contaminated syringes in a community and drug treatment reduces drug use, which may indirectly reduce HIV transmission.”

In their analysis, the study authors included 440 injection drug users who were interviewed from 1997 to 2002 as part of the Self-Help in Eliminating Life-Threatening Diseases (SHIELD) study. At follow-up, 166 of the study participants were enrolled in methadone maintenance or detoxification, or a drug-free residential or outpatient treatment program. Individuals who entered treatment programs were more likely to be female, unemployed and participants in Baltimore City’s needle exchange program, compared with individuals who did not enter drug treatment programs. Those in treatment were also more likely to be HIV positive, have a history of mental illness and inject heroin. Individuals who did not enter treatment programs were more likely to sniff or snort cocaine or heroin.

“Needle exchange programs are an important part in linking drug users with treatment. Creating trusting relationships with health care providers may encourage more injection drug users to enter drug treatment programs. Our study results clearly point to the need for strong linkages between needle exchange programs and treatment programs. There is also a need for treatment services that have the capacity to address co-occurring health problems found among drug users in Baltimore City,” said Latkin.

The study authors also point out the need to publicize the services offered by needle exchange programs beyond needle distribution and disposal.

Authors of the study, from Johns Hopkins, include Carl A. Latkin, Melissa A. Davey and Wei Hua.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.