A gender comparison of HIV and drug use across the rural-urban continuum

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Abstract

Despite the central role of women drug users in escalating AIDS statistics, there is still a limited number of studies that examine the roles of gender and drug use type in HIV seroprevalence. This lacuna in the research literature has led to significant gaps in researchers‘understanding of how and to what extent women may differ in their drug-using and HIV risk behaviors compared to their better-studied male counterparts. This study, derived from a sample of 3,555 out-of-treatment drug users residing in three South Florida urban and rural communities, attempts to compare the drug usage and needle and sexual risk behaviors of male and female drug users that put them at risk for HIV infection. The overall seropositivity rate for women drug users was 26.5% compared to 19.5% for their male counterparts. Results of multivariate analyses indicate that females compared to males were 1.4 times more likely to be HIV seropositive. Risk behaviors associated with this elevated seropositivity include living arrangements, homeless status, drug use, sexual trading behaviors, and history of STDs. Furthermore, there was a strong linear relationship between drug use type and HIV seroprevalence among women drug users. Compared to those who were neither crack smokers nor injectors of illicit drugs, those who were crack smokers only were 2 times more likely to be HIV seropositive, while those who were both crack smokers and injectors were 5 times more likely to be HIV seropositive, and those who were injectors only were 6 times more likely to be HIV seropositive. These findings indicate that among women, drug abuse and its associated risk behaviors, increase the vulnerability of this population for HIV and thus render them an extremely important priority population on which to focus HIV prevention and public health efforts and programs.

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