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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 22, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 18
Drug Treatment Seeks Also Use Needle Exchange

By Kenna Lowe
Bloomberg School of Public Health

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," said Carl A. Latkin, lead author of the study and a professor in the Bloomberg School'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 study, known as SHIELD. At follow-up, 166 of the study participants were enrolled in methadone maintenance or detoxification programs 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," Latkin said. "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."

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 include Latkin, Melissa A. Davey and Wei Hua, all of Johns Hopkins. Funding was provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


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