Correlates of syringe coverage for heroin injection in 35 large metropolitan areas in the US in which heroin is the dominant injected drug

Barbara Tempalski, Hannah L. Cooper, Samuel R. Friedman, Don C. Des Jarlais, Joanne Brady, Karla Gostnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Scientific consensus holds that if, at the outset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, injection drug users (IDUs) had had better access to sterile syringes, much of the epidemic among IDUs in the U.S. could have been prevented. In the context of preventing infectious diseases, 100% syringe coverage - that is, one sterile syringe per injector for each injection - is a public health goal. Notably, we know little about variations in syringe coverage within the U.S. and elsewhere, or about the social and political factors that might determine this coverage. Methods: Using data from Holmberg (1996), the 1990 United States Census, the 2000 Beth Israel National Syringe Exchange Survey (n = 72), and estimates of IDUs in metropolitan areas (MSAs); (Friedman et al., 2004), we explore the impact of (1) political factors (ACT UP, outreach, early syringe exchange programme (SEP) presence, men who have sex with men (MSM) per capita, drug arrests, and police per capita); (2) local resources for SEPs; and (3) indicators of socioeconomic inequality on SEP coverage. We define "syringe coverage" as the ratio of syringes distributed at SEPs to the number of syringes heroin injectors need in a year. We calculated the number of syringes heroin injectors need in a year by multiplying an estimate of the number of IDUs in each MSA by an estimate of the average number of times heroin injectors inject heroin per year (2.8 times per day times 365 days). In this analysis, the sample was limited to 35 MSAs in which the primary drug of choice among injectors was heroin. Results: SEP coverage varies greatly across MSAs, with an average of 3 syringes distributed per 100 injection events (S.D. = 0.045; range: 2 syringes per 10 injection events, to 3 syringes per 10,000 injection events). In bivariate regression analyses, a 1 unit difference in the proportion of the population that was MSM per 1000 was associated with a difference of 0.002 in SEP coverage (p = 0.052); early SEP presence was associated with a difference of 0.038 in coverage (p = 0.012); and having government funding was associated with a 0.040 difference in SEP coverage (p = 0.021). Conclusions: This analysis suggests that longer duration of SEP presence may increase syringe distribution and enhance successful programme utilization. Furthermore, MSAs with greater proportions of MSM tend to have better SEP coverage, perhaps providing further evidence that grassroots activism plays an important role in programme implementation and successful SEP coverage. This research provides evidence that government funding for SEPs contributes to better syringe coverage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-58
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Coverage
  • Government funding
  • Grassroots activism
  • Heroin injection events
  • Syringe exchange programmes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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