Needles and needs

September 21, 2005

Recent studies by researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins show a generational divide among users of the city's needle-exchange program, with older heroin addicts much more likely to use the program than younger, particularly white, addicts.

While the program distributes about 6,500 clean syringes a week in exchange for dirty needles and offers HIV tests, drug treatment information and about 250 slots for methadone treatment, younger users are resistant. City Health Department officials say only 6 percent of the program's enrollees over the years have been younger than 25, and in Baltimore, heroin addicts in their teens and early 20s tend to be white, whereas blacks tend to take up hard drugs in their late 20s and 30s.

Health officials are now aiming to target users under 30 through a special grant. But researchers say it would also be prudent to expand the number of treatment slots offered through either the exchange program or other venues to help the additional 15,000 addicts throughout the city who can't be accommodated through the existing network.

Substance abusers typically cycle in and out of treatment at least a few times before they stop using. That's why a broader needle-exchange program and more treatment slots would go a long way toward helping drug users -- of all ages -- stay clean.

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