Background: Sex risks and drug use are related. This relation in youth is described.
Goal: To determine how stigmatized drug use is related to sexual risk behaviors and network characteristics among youth.
Study design: In-person interviews were conducted with both a probability household sample (n = 363) and a targeted, street-recruited sample of cocaine, heroin, crack, or injected drug users (n - 165) comprising 18- to 24-year-olds in an inner city neighborhood. Drug use in the preceding 12 months was scaled hierarchically, lowest to highest social stigma, as none, marijuana, noninjected cocaine, noninjected heroin, crack, and injected drugs.
Results: Users of the more stigmatized drugs had more sex partners. They were more likely to report a history of concurrent sex partners, sex with someone who also had engaged in sex with a network member, commercial sex work, and unprotected sex. Findings showed crack use and drug injection to be associated more strongly with increased sex risk among women than among men.
Conclusions: Young users of the more stigmatized drugs are at much greater network and behavior risk for sexually transmitted diseases. Drug use prevention, harm reduction interventions, or both may lower this risk.