Syringe exchanges: a public health response to problem drug use.
This paper presents the findings of the first ever Irish follow-up study to establish the effectiveness of syringe exchanges as a harm reduction strategy in the context of public health. The study was conducted in collaboration with 370 injecting drug users who attended the Merchant's Quay Project's Health Promotion Unit between May 1st 1997 and October 31st 1998. Data was collected from respondents by means of a structured interview at first visit and three-months after initial contact. Evidence from the study demonstrates that syringe exchanges play an important contributing role in significantly reducing the numbers reporting both the use of heroin as a primary drug (n=41; McNemar x2=10.1;p<0.01), and its frequency of use (n=70; McNemar x2=4.13;p<0.05) at follow-up. Moreover, there were significant reductions in the reported borrowing (n=60; McNemar x2=10.1;p<0.01) and lending (n=42: McNemar x2=7.9;p<0.01) of used injecting equipment. There was however no significant change in the reported sharing of injecting paraphernalia or in levels of reported condom use. The results of this study illustrate that low threshold services such as the Health Promotion Unit have the ability to attract injecting drug users not in contact with other drug treatment services. Furthermore, this type of service has been shown to be effective in maintaining contact with injecting drug users and promoting safer drug use among attendees. Even though the distribution of sterile injecting equipment reduces the situational sharing, this is hampered by the limited availability of sterile injecting equipment in Dublin. There is a need to continue to develop strategies to prevent HIV and hepatitis C transmission. One such approach would be to develop effective outreach as a means of reaching greater numbers of drug users earlier in their injecting histories. Other areas for future HIV and HCV prevention include discouraging the transition from smoking to injecting, and among those who inject, encouraging further reductions in sharing, sustaining risk reduction over time, and encouraging the adoption of safer sexual behaviour.
Cox, GM; Lawless, MC; Cassin, SP; Geoghegan, TW
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