An investigation into harm reduction measures that may be used in homeless emergency shelters

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Fitzpatrick, Gavin
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MA in Addiction Studies
Dublin Business School
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Research has shown that homeless drug users engage in more sharing of injecting equipment than non-homeless drug users and are, therefore, at greater risk of infection form a blood borne virus (Donoghoe et aI, 1992). It has been argued (eg. Miescher et aI, 1996) that locating harm reduction measures in facilities that are familiar to homeless drug users, such as emergency shelter, is an effective way of engaging this hidden population into drug services, however, there is a lack of research in this area. The current study investigated the effectiveness of locating needle exchanges and methadone prescribing programmes in an emergency shelter and the feasibility of operating a drug consumption room in an emergency shelter. 69 participants took part in this study. These included 45 service users of emergency shelters and 24 project workers in emergency shelters for the homeless. The service user group completed three questionnaires; a questionnaire on their attitudes towards their methadone prescribing programme, a questionnaire on their attitudes towards drug consumption rooms and finally the Injecting Risk Questionnaire (IRQ) (Stimson et aI, 1998). The project worker group were asked to complete the drug consumption room questionnaire. Independent t-tests found that participants in the shelter methadone-prescribing programme scored significantly higher on the methadone questionnaire than participants on a drug clinic programme. There was no significant difference found on the IRQ between participants who stayed in a shelter that provided a needle exchange facility and those who stayed in a shelter that did not provide a needle exchange. Finally, no significant difference was found between the service user group and the project worker group on the drug consumption room questionnaire. These results are discussed in light of previous research and possible areas for future research are outlined.