Injection risk behavior among women syringe exchangers in San Francisco.
Women who inject drugs in cities where syringe exchange programs (SEPs) are well established may have different risks for HIV infection. In 1997, we interviewed 149 female syringe exchangers in San Francisco, CA, a city with high rates of injection drug use that is home to one of the largest and oldest SEPs in the United States. In this report, we describe their sociodemographics, health, and risk behavior, and we examine factors associated with recent syringe sharing. Fifty percent of respondents were women of color and the median age was 38 years. Most (86%) injected heroin and nearly half were currently homeless or had recently been incarcerated. One-third of all women reported needle sharing in the prior month. This was higher than the rate of needle sharing reported by a mixed gender sample of San Francisco exchangers in 1993, although it resembled the rate reported by a mixed gender sample in 1992. In a multivariate analysis, syringe sharing was associated with age, housing status, and sexual partnerships. Syringe sharers were more likely to be young, homeless, or have a sexual partner who was also an injection drug user. While wide access to sterile syringes is an important strategy to reduce HIV transmission among injection drug users (IDU), syringe exchange alone cannot eradicate risky injection by female IDU. Additional efforts to reduce risky injection practices should focus on younger and homeless female IDU, as well as address selective risk taking between sexual partners.