This study assessed gender differences in drug use, HIV risk, and health status in a sample of urban crack users. Using targeted sampling, 1434 crack users (66% male and primarily African-American and Puerto Rican), were recruited from the streets of East Harlem, New York City. A standardized, structured interview was administered, drug use was validated by urinalysis, and HIV testing was offered. Gender differences were observed on sociodemographic variables and patterns of drug use. Other than welfare, men and women cited different major sources of income. Women reported greater use of crack, and men were more likely to use injection drugs as well as crack. Data on sexual risk indicated that women had more sexual partners than men, but the percentage of unprotected vaginal sex for both men and women was greater for those who did not exchange sex for drugs and/or money. The number of persons already infected with HIV was substantial. Many reported histories of other sexually transmitted diseases which were generally higher among men. Future research should investigate the relationship between gender and other factors (e.g., ethnicity, geographic location) associated with HIV risk.
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