Six-month follow-up of Iranian women in methadone treatment: drug use, social functioning, crime, and HIV and HCV seroincidence
Kate Dolan1, Shabnam Salimi2, Bijan Nassirimanesh3, Setareh Mohsenifar2, David Allsop1, Azarakhsh Mokri2
1Program of International Research and Training, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; 2Iranian National Center for Addiction Studies, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran; 3Persepolis Centre, Tehran, Iran
Background: In general, information about women who use drugs comes from studies performed in the West. Whether women in countries such as Iran are likely to enter drug treatment or how they will respond is not known.
Purpose: To examine the short-term impact of methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) on drug use, dependence, social functioning, crime, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) risk behavior and seroincidence in female drug users in Iran.
Methods: Women were eligible for inclusion in the study if they were assessed as dependent on opiates according to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, tenth revision (ICD-10). The sample comprised 78 female heroin or opium users who attended the Persepolis women's drug treatment clinic in Tehran between 2007 and 2008. Participants were followed up in 2009/2010. Heroin and the use of other drugs, social functioning, involvement in crime, and involvement in HIV and HCV risk behavior were measured by self-report. The prevalence and incidence of HIV and HCV were measured by serology and self-report.
Findings: Of the 78 women recruited, 40 were followed up, and this occurred approximately 7 months later. One in four women reported a history of drug injection. At follow-up there were significant reductions in self-reported heroin use on ICD-10 dependence scores. Subjects with more severe drug dependence at baseline were significantly more likely to be criminally active than less severely dependent subjects. Baseline prevalence for HIV and HCV was 5% and 24%, respectively. At follow-up, no one had acquired HIV infection, but one participant had acquired HCV, giving an incidence rate of 7.1 per 100 person-years.
Conclusion: This research provides the first evidence that Iranian female drug users can enter MMT and respond well. Within a few months of entering MMT, improvements occurred in heroin use, levels of dependence, social functioning, and HIV risk behavior. While the incidence of blood-borne viral infections was low, there was a serious risk of HIV transmission among this cohort and also to participants' needle and sexual contacts. In a country with high levels of drug use, the high levels of HCV among female drug users require more women to enter drug treatment if an HIV epidemic is to be avoided. Many participants had a chronic drug problem and had had little or no previous exposure to MMT. The introduction or expansion of women-only drug treatment services is urgently needed in order to engage more women in treatment.
Keywords: women drug users, Iran, drug treatment clinic, risk behavior
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