Preventing the Transmission of HIV Among Drug Abusers

7. Deciding on the implementation of the intervention strategies to prevent HIV in injecting drug abusers is one of the most urgent questions facing policy makers. Studies have demonstrated that HIV transmission among injecting drug abusers can be prevented and that the epidemic already has been slowed and even reversed in some cases. HIV prevention activities which have shown impact on HIV prevalence and risk behaviour include AIDS education, access to condoms and clean injecting equipment, counselling and drug abuse treatment.

8. Drug abuse treatment is one approach that may have an impact on preventing HIV infection. Many large-magnitude studies have shown that patients participating in drug substitution treatment such as methadone maintenance, therapeutic communities, and outpatient drug-free programmes decrease their drug consumption significantly. Several longitudinal studies examining changes in HIV risk behaviours for patients currently in treatment have found that longer retention in treatment, as well as completion of treatment, are correlated with reduction in HIV risk behaviours or an increase in protective behaviours. However, studies have found more effectiveness for changing illicit drug use than changing sexual risk behaviour.

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10. Several reviews of the effectiveness of syringe and needle exchange programmes have shown reductions in needle risk behaviours and HIV transmission and no evidence of increase into injecting drug use or other public health dangers in the communities served. Furthermore, such programmes have shown to serve as points of contact between drug abusers and service providers, including drug abuse treatment programmes. The benefits of such programmes increase considerably, if they go beyond syringe exchange alone to include AIDS education, counselling and referral to a variety of treatment options.

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32. Treatment services need to be readily available and flexible. Treatment applicants can be lost if treatment is not immediately available or readily accessible. Treatment systems need to offer a range of treatment alternatives, including substitution treatment, to respond to the different needs of drug abusers. They also need to provide ongoing assessments of patient’s needs, which may change during the course of treatment. Longer retention in treatment, as well as completion of treatment, are correlated with reduction in HIV risk behaviours or an increase in protective behaviours

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37. A comprehensive package of interventions for HIV prevention among drug abusers could include: AIDS education, life skills training, condom distribution, voluntary and confidential counselling and HIV testing, access to clean needles and syringes, bleach materials, and referral to a variety of treatment options.

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