Access to Healthcare Among Injection Drug Users at a Needle Exchange Program in Pittsburgh, PA

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The purpose of this study was to explore healthcare access among injection drug users (IDUs) at a needle exchange program in Pittsburgh, PA.


A 2-page survey was conducted using a questionnaire adapted from a previous study, focusing on demographics, health characteristics, health service utilization, and healthcare satisfaction. Binary logistic regression analyses were performed to identify statistically significant associations between IDU characteristics and healthcare access.


Among 95 subjects surveyed, 48% were uninsured, 31% reported having health conditions not followed by a physician, and 68% reported not seeing a physician regularly. The hospital emergency room was the site where most medical care was reportedly obtained. Twenty-three percent reported having problems as a result of not seeking needed medical care. The most commonly reported reason for not seeing a physician regularly was “financial.” Young age and marriage/cohabitation were significantly associated with lacking health insurance (P < 0.005 and P < 0.05, respectively). Young age, uninsured status, and non-white race were significantly associated with not seeing a physician regularly (P < 0.05, P < 0.005, and P < 0.05, respectively).


The results suggest that many IDUs at the needle exchange site have overall poor access to healthcare. Needle exchange programs may use the results of this study to develop services that address uninsured status as a barrier to healthcare access and further improve the health of the IDU community.

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