Majority of IV Drug Users in Baltimore Purchase Needles From ‘Questionable’ Sources
A study of 740 intravenous drug users in Baltimore found that 85% purchased their needles from "questionable sources," while only 4% said they obtained needles exclusively from the city's needle-exchange van, the Associated Press reports. The study, published in the August edition of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, found that 25% of respondents also said they sold needles to others, and of those, 80% said that "it was easy to fool customers into believing a used needle was new." Carl Latkin, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the study, said that the large number of intravenous drug users in Baltimore makes it difficult for the city to supply enough needles. The needle exchange "is giving out huge numbers of needles. There are just huge numbers of drug users. The demand really outstrips the supply," he said. But Baltimore Public Health Officer Peter Beilenson said that the city's program "appears to be successful," adding, "I don't know what [the study authors] are talking about. I can tell you we have 13,000 enrollees, so people are using it. We're the sixth-busiest needle-exchange (program) in the country." The Associated Press reports that Baltimore is home to more than 50,000 intravenous drug users. Beilenson said that approximately 30% of intravenous drug users in Baltimore are HIV-positive, and Latkin added that about 60% to 80% of all IV drug users have hepatitis C. Latkin said that increasing funding for needle-exchange programs could help to stem the spread of disease. He added that to prevent people from reselling used needles as new, syringe makers should add safety seals or wrap all syringes individually (Payne, Associated Press, 8/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.