Recent epidemiological data show that older adults comprise a growing
age group of drug users and new AIDS cases in the United States.
Prevention and intervention studies show that risk behaviors leading to
HIV infection are increasing among older users, particularly among the
socially vulnerable. Yet older adults remain an under-researched
population of drug users and little is known about their risk behaviors.
Our aim is to address this gap in knowledge on older users by comparing
contextual factors that influence risk behaviors and harm reduction
strategies practiced by older drug users living in different
communities. This study is based on ethnographic fieldwork in suburban
and inner-city neighborhoods in a large metropolitan area in the
southeastern USA. Interviewers conducted face-to-face, in-depth,
life-history interviews with 69 older adults (age 45 and older) who used
heroin, cocaine, and/or methamphetamine. Findings show that while risk
behaviors were similar among older adult drug users living in suburban
and inner-city environments, the provision of harm reduction education
and paraphernalia varied widely. The results show the need for the
expansion of harm reduction services focused on older adult drug users
who are homeless, uninsured, or socially isolated. This
application-oriented research will inform healthcare and treatment
providers and generate new directions for future collaborative harm
reduction services aimed to decrease the spread of HIV and other
infectious diseases associated with drug use (Authors).