Despite the 2010 repeal of the ban on spending federal monies to fund syringe exchange programs (SEPs) in the USA, these interventions-and specifically SEP site locations-remain controversial. To further inform discussions about the location of SEP sites, this longitudinal multilevel study investigates the relationship between spatial access to sterile syringes distributed by SEPs in New York City (NYC) United Hospital Fund (UHF) districts and injecting with an unsterile syringe among injectors over time (1995-2006). Annual measures of spatial access to syringes in each UHF district (N = 42) were created using data on SEP site locations and site-specific syringe distribution data. Individual-level data on unsterile injecting among injectors (N = 4,067) living in these districts, and on individual-level covariates, were drawn from the Risk Factors study, an ongoing cross-sectional study of NYC drug users. We used multilevel models to explore the relationship of district-level access to syringes to the odds of injecting with an unsterile syringe in >75% of injection events in the past 6 months, and to test whether this relationship varied by district-level arrest rates (per 1,000 residents) for drug and drug paraphernalia possession. The relationship between district-level access to syringes and the odds of injecting with an unsterile syringe depended on district-level arrest rates. In districts with low baseline arrest rates, better syringe access was associated with a decline in the odds of frequently injecting with an unsterile syringe (AOR, 0.95). In districts with no baseline syringe access, higher arrest rates were associated with increased odds of frequently injecting with an unsterile syringe (AOR, 1.02) When both interventions were present, arrest rates eroded the protective effects of spatial access to syringes. Spatial access to syringes in small geographic areas appears to reduce the odds of injecting with an unsterile syringe among local injectors, and arrest rates elevate these odds. Policies and practices that curtail syringe flow in geographic areas (e.g., restrictions on SEP locations or syringe distribution) or that make it difficult for injectors to use the sterile syringes they have acquired may damage local injectors’ efforts to reduce HIV transmission and other injection-related harms.
Spatial access to sterile syringes and the odds of injecting with an unsterile syringe among injectors: A longitudinal multilevel study
Journal of Urban Health, 89 (4), 678-696. doi: 10.1007/s11524-012-9673-y. PMCID: PMC3535144.