Research center program to target Hispanic drug users

By Ana A. Lima
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 11, 1996

Gregory Harris
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Antonio Estrada, director of the One to One program talks about the project's importance to the community. The program targets those with a high risk of contracting the HIV virus.


A program designed by a University of Arizona research center is targeting Hispanic drug users who are at high risk of contracting the AIDS virus.

The Mexican American Studies and Research Center developed One to One, which offers free HIV testing and pre- and post-test counseling. It provides information on how to reduce the risks of contracting the virus and support groups for injection drug users.

The program also offers free condoms, lubricant, bleach (to sterilize needles) and educational materials.

CODAC Behavioral Health Sciences and Pima County Community Prevention and Public Health Department are working in conjunction with the center.

Antonio Estrada, assistant professor of Mexican American Studies, and director of One to One, was awarded a $3.5 million grant by the National Institute of Drug Abuse last year. The grant provides funding for five years and the program is expected to serve 1,700 people in the Tucson community.

The program is geared towards, but not restricted to, Hispanics. Statistics show that 17 percent of AIDS cases and 22 percent of HIV positive cases in Pima County are found among Hispanics, Estrada said.

One to One provides educational sessions that teach users how to protect themselves, he said. Cleaning needles with bleach, using disposable ones or not sharing needles at all, are precautions that could greatly reduce the risk for contracting the AIDS virus, Estrada said.

The first phase of the project, which began in September 1995 and lasted a year, consisted of going out into the community and identifying those who are injection drug users.

The injection drug users were then interviewed individually and in groups to determine what types of service One to One should offer, said Barbara Polk, the program's research coordinator. CODAC Behavioral Health Services coordinated the outreach phase.

Once identified, the drug users were brought into the One to One office to undergo a urinalysis test, which would be able to detect traces of narcotics.

"They have to drop a positive urinalysis," said Pancho Cardenas, an interventionist for the program. Pima County Community Prevention and Public Health Department then administers the HIV test.

In order to be eligible, individuals have to be over 18 years old. Young drug users between ages 18 and 25 are the program's main target, but the hardest to reach, said Polk.

The One to One staff is expecting to begin the second phase of the project Nov. 1. Individuals who have been recognized as potentially at risk during the assessment phase will participate in sessions where they will learn skills to help them minimize their risks of contracting AIDS. Six- and 12-month follow-ups are done with each of the clients.

Heroin is the drug most commonly used among injection drug addicts, but the combined use of heroin and cocaine, popularly known as "belusi" or "speed ball" is also significant.

One major concern of the program is to reach not only the drug users, but also the families affected.

Thirty percent of AIDS cases in Pima County among Hispanics occur due to injection drug use, Estrada said. These numbers include the sexual partners of the drug users as well.

"Women are becoming infected through a heterosexual relationship," Estrada said.

He said that is where the culturally innovative aspect of the program comes into play. Among Hispanics, where "machismo" is traditionally present in some marriages and in the culture, women are often kept uninformed of their husband's drug addiction or sexual relationship outside of the marriage, he said.

"Because they don't know they could be putting themselves at risk," said Estrada.

The One to One intervention staff provides drug users with educational sessions at which their spouses are present. They then discuss the need to use condoms and to maintain an open relationship about the abuse.

One to One has its precedents in other outreach programs such as Community Outreach Program for AIDS in Southern Arizona, or COPASA, which was also created by the Mexican American Studies and Research Center. It was funded by a five-year grant, similar to the one awarded to One to One, and completed its term in May.

"I'm very optimistic. We've seen risk reduction with COPASA. Unlike COPASA, One to One is a lot more client centered and culturally innovative," said Estrada.

Estrada also coordinates Por Nosotro, a program in Nogales, Sonora."The needs down there are so profound."

Estrada said lack of social services to injection drug users generates violence, since users are willing to steal for money to support their habit. This program was created in 1993, and is also funded by NIDA.