By Lois Jones

DRUG users trained by the Red Cross have developed a project that has been carried out on to the streets of Palma especially aimed at those addicts who aren't receiving any form of treatment. An enquiry has been conducted to evaluate the state of the addicts' health and living conditions.
Yesterday in a press conference, the project co-ordinator Violeta Royas and the Red Cross Director of Social Services - Marta Soler, explained that the initiative, entitled “Snowball” was undertaken between November 2002 and March of this year with financial support from Caja Madrid of 6000 euros. Out of the 200 drug addicts encountered by the team of Red Cross “Health Agents” between January and March of this year, 120 responded to the enquiry revealing that the average age of addicts on the streets of Palma is 34. 60 percent of the numbers investigated were men, 38 percent women, and 2 percent transexual; 87.5 percent are Spanish and 6.6 percent of African origin; 61.6 percent have a fixed address, and 68.3 percent have no access to any form of income. Amongst those interviewed, cocaine was the drug most commonly taken (65 percent), heroin (53 percent), hashish (38.3 percent) and amphetamines (30 percent); nearly 66 percent had injected themselves with some substance in the last six months using dirty syringes, while nearly 36 percent had lent injection material to others. 55 percent had tried treatment for drug dependency, using methadone, over a period of 4 years 36 percent were taking methadone at the time of the Red Cross enquiry. 65 percent had practiced unprotected sex in the last half year, 81 percent had undergone a test at some stage to see whether they were HIV positive and, on average, the last time they had had this test was ten months before responding to the questionnaire. Although the enquiry pointed to the fact that 36.7 percent of the addicts acknowledge they have AIDS and 72 percent state they suffer from hepatitits, in both cases the percentage of those interviewed who didn't respond to these questions was very high. With regard to hepatitis, types B and C are the most common (51 and 54 percent respectively). 41 percent of those who said they were victims of this condition only suffered from one of the variants, but nearly 46 percent had both types and 13 percent had even three or four types of hepatitis. This enquiry, as well as an information leaflet giving information on high risk practices, was produced by the group of 14 drug users from which five (plus a reserve) were finally chosen to take the project out onto the streets. These drug users, who received some small payment for their work, received specific training on risk reduction in drug consumption and sexual practices, on AIDS, hepatitis, diet and social health programmes that are available in Palma. Once their training was complete, the five members of the group of “Health Agents” went out onto the streets of Palma, concentrating on the Chinese Quarter, distributed 286 syringes, collected another 1'512 (112 of them from the hands of drug addicts), gave away 863 condoms, and led 23 addicts to Sa Placeta medical centre. Soler and Royas, whose project has been considered one of the six best in the entire country, highlighted the fact that this work has confirmed that the consumption of drugs has moved from the Chinese Quarter to the immedate area of sale: Son Banya. Likewise they made a special point of emphasizing the benefits of project “Snowball” for the drug addicts who have received help and information, and for the five selected “Health Agents”.