UCSF Study Finds Drug Abuse Treatment Programs Can Be Effective in Changing High-Risk Behavior for HIV

November 08, 1999

Drug users participating in a treatment program based on a "therapeutic community" model showed a decrease in HIV-related high risk behavior, according to a new study by University of California, San Francisco AIDS researchers.

The study found that program participants made positive behavior changes in both drug injection use and high-risk sex.

One of the most notable findings was the correlation between length of time associated with treatment and decision-making regarding high-risk activity, said William J. Woods, PhD, study co-investigator and a research psychologist with the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies.

"We found that the longer the period of time spent in the treatment program, the less likelihood that a person would engage in the very high-risk behavior of needle sharing. We also saw this pattern in regard to high-risk sex , but it was not as significant as the correlation with high-risk drug activity," Woods said.

Research results are reported in the November issue of the journal AIDS. The study involved 261 clients in a drug treatment program at Walden House in San Francisco.

In the therapeutic community model, program staff members act as a surrogate family to help clients abolish behaviors related to drug use, develop self-esteem, and develop self-reliance, according to Woods. Treatment involves a variety of clinical and support services, such as individual, group, and family counseling, education and vocational services, and social and recreational activities. Treatment is structured to move participants from drug dependence to a drug-free lifestyle.

Study participants were assigned either to the day program, in which they returned to their homes each day, or to the residential program, with 24-hour-a-day structure. Participants included both men and women, ranging in age from 18 to 53 years. The primary drug of choice was cocaine for 67 percent of participants and heroin for 13 percent.

From the early days of the AIDS epidemic, injection drug users (IDUs) were identified as a group at risk for HIV infection through the sharing of needles and other drug paraphernalia, with later studies showing that IDUs and their sexual partners also were at increased risk of HIV through sexual behaviors, Woods noted. As the epidemic continued, it became known that substance abusers who did not inject drugs also were at greater risk of HIV infection than the general population because of high-risk sexual practices.

"Now recent evaluations have concluded that methadone maintenance programs reduce needle use among drug users, but the evidence has been less clear about the value of other treatment modalities in reducing HIV risk among both IDUs and non-IDUs. So our objective was to measure this value," Woods said.

Study participants were interviewed about high-risk behaviors at the beginning of the treatment program and then at 6, 12, and 18 months.

Among the study findings:

Joseph R. Guydish, PhD, associate professor with the UCSF Institute for Health Policy Studies, was study principal investigator. Co-investigators included James L. Sorensen, PhD, Department of Psychiatry at UCSF and San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center; Adam Coutts, BA, UCSF Department of Medicine; Alan Bostrom, PhD, UCSF Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences; and Alfonso Acampora, MBA, Walden House, Inc.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

University of California - San Francisco

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