The study by the University of Houston's Office for Drug and Social Policy Research is of the first of its kind, examining drug abuse patterns among evacuees and how the Katrina disaster affected those behaviors. Researchers will also find out how local health care delivery has helped or hindered evacuees who use drugs here. Principal investigator Avelardo Valdez says he hopes the study leads to health care solutions.
"The whole purpose of this is to inform us about how to better respond to these kinds of problems in the future and I think that's really the basis and the most important part of this whole study and that's what I hope we'll be able to deliver to the public and to policy makers and be better prepared for these kinds of disasters."
Researchers will interview 300 evacuees during the three-year study, including ones who may have started abusing drugs after Katrina and their arrival here. Co-investigator Alice Cepeda says the results could shed-light on how evacuee drug abuse might affect Houston.
"What is important about all this is that the drug users are most vulnerable given some of their risk behavior, which may consequently result in the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases. That's one of the focuses that we're going to be looking at, their risk networks."
The study is made possible through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It's estimated that more than 150,000 Katrina evacuees now live in Houston.