Discarded needles do not increase soon after the opening of a needle exchange program

Meg C. Doherty, Richard S. Garfein, David Vlahov, Benjamin Junge, Paul J. Rathouz, Noya Galai, James C. Anthony, Peter Beilenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines the effect of a Needle Exchange Program (NEP) on the quantity and geographic distribution of discarded needles on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, and presents methods to survey discarded needles in the community. A random sample of 32 city blocks located within high-drug-use census tracts, stratified by east and west sides of the city and by proximity to the NEP, was selected for survey. Three teams surveyed the number of needles and the number of drug vials and unbroken glass bottles ('trash') to control for practice effects. Surveillance was conducted prior to initiation of the NEP in August 1994 and 1 and 2 months thereafter. Over the three study periods, the absolute count of discarded needles was 106, 130, and 128, respectively; the number of vials and bottles was 3,048, 3,825, and 3,796, respectively. The initial nonstatistically significant increase in needles (mean change = 0.38, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.18 to 0.93) was offset by accounting for background trash. Regression models fitted with the generalized estimating equation method, which accounted for within-block correlation over time, showed no significant increase in the number of needles after adjustment for trash during the first 2 months of the NEP's operation. These data suggest that the initiation of NEPs does not result in an increase in the number of discarded needles on the street.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)730-737
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 15 Apr 1997
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse grant number DA 09225. The authors acknowledge the organization Street Voice as well as Curtis Price, Robert Thomas, Kim Connely, Dennis Henderson, Elise Riley, and all of the research assistants who made this study possible. They also acknowledge the assistance of the Etiology Branch of the National Institute for Drug Abuse Addiction Research Center. This paper is dedicated to the memory of James E. Commander.


  • HIV
  • environmental exposure
  • injections
  • intravenous
  • needle exchange programs
  • substance abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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