Objectives: This study explores the gender difference in patterns of drug use, risk behaviour, health and well-being among 934 new attenders at a Dublin syringe exchange.
Method: Over the period May 1997 to April 1998 data was collected by means of structured interviews with all clients who presented for the first time at Merchant's Quay health promotion unit. All information collected was based on clients' self-reported behaviour.
Results: Of the new clients, 24.3% were female and 75.7% were male. The female clients were significantly younger than their male counterparts (p < 0.0001). The women were significantly more likely to report having a sexual partner who was an injecting drug user (OR 9.04, 95% CI, 5.9-13.9) and to be living with an injecting drug user (OR 1.69, 95% CI, 1.2-2.3). They were also significantly more likely to share injecting equipment with their sexual partner (OR = 3.83, 95% CI, 2.7-5.5) and to report recently sharing injecting paraphernalia (OR = 1.79, 95% CI, 1.3-2.5). However, the interval between initiating intravenous drug use and first presenting at the Merchant's Quay health promotion unit was significantly shorter for female clients (p < 0.0001).
Conclusions: One of the most important concerns with regard to illicit intravenous drug use is that of needle sharing, and the associated risks of infection with human immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis. This study highlights the greater personal involvement of women with other drug users, and its consequences in terms of healthrelated problems and risk behaviour. There is a need to address this issue, by taking advantage of the fact that women present for treatment at a younger age than their male counterparts and at a much earlier stage in their injecting career.