New evidence in support of opioid substitution therapy as a key HIV programme for people who inject drugs

Impact of opioid substitution therapy on antiretroviral therapy outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Low AJ, Mburu G, Welton NJ, May MT, Davies CF, French C, Turner K, Looker KJ, Christensen H, McLean S, Rhodes T, Platt L, Hickman M, Guise A, Vickerman P. Clin Infect Dis. 2016 Jun 25. pii: ciw416. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: HIV-positive people who inject drugs (PWID) frequently encounter barriers accessing and remaining on antiretroviral treatment (ART). Some studies have suggested that opioid substitution therapy (OST) could facilitate PWID's engagement with HIV services. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate the impact of concurrent OST use on ART-related outcomes among HIV-positive PWID.

Methods: We searched Medline, PsycInfo, Embase, Global Health, Cochrane, Web of Science, and Social Policy and Practice databases for studies between 1996 to November 2014 documenting the impact of OST, compared to no OST, on ART outcomes. Outcomes considered were: coverage and recruitment onto ART, adherence, viral suppression, attrition from ART, and mortality. Meta-analyses were conducted using random effects modelling, and heterogeneity assessed using Cochran's Q test and I2 statistic.

Results: We identified 4685 articles, and 32 studies conducted in North America, Europe, Indonesia and China were included. OST was associated with a 69% increase in recruitment onto ART (HR=1.69, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.32-2.15), a 54% increase in ART coverage (OR=1.54; 95% CI: 1.17-2.03), a two-fold increase in adherence (OR=2.14, 95% CI: 1.41-3.26), and a 23% decrease in the odds of attrition (OR=0.77, 95% CI:0.63-0.95). OST was associated with a 45% increase in odds of viral suppression (OR=1.45, 95%CI:1.21-1.73), but there was limited evidence from six studies for OST decreasing mortality for PWID on ART (HR=0.91, 95% CI:0.65-1.25).

Conclusions: These findings support the use of OST, and its integration with HIV services, to improve the HIV treatment and care continuum amongst HIV-positive PWID.

Abstract access [1]

Editor’s notes: This is a very important study contributing new evidence on how opioid substitution therapy can help in the treatment and prevention of HIV among people who inject drugs. This review provides key evidence in support of opioid substitution therapy as a cornerstone HIV treatment and prevention programme. This evidence is essential given the growing number of HIV infections among people who inject drugs globally, particularly in eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. There is a wealth of evidence from systematic reviews and mathematical modelling to illustrate how the use of opioid substitution therapy decreases risk of HIV acquisition at an individual-level.  It can also reduce HIV prevalence and incidence at the population level. This review is important in that it illustrates how opioid substitution therapy can facilitate HIV treatment.  Findings illustrate that opioid substitution therapy works by increasing adherence to HIV treatment, decreasing attrition from treatment and increasing odds of viral suppression reducing the odds of onwards HIV transmission. In addition to this important review, there is also a need to understand the role opioid substitution therapy might have in increasing uptake of HIV testing. This review does not address that question. It is notable that few studies on impact of opioid substitution therapy on HIV treatment outcomes and uptake included in the review were identified in low-income countries or eastern Europe where need is greatest. This partly reflects the lack of opioid substitution therapy programmes in that region, particularly the Russian Federation. This is also the case in sub-Saharan Africa where opioid substitution therapy programmes are newly established and yet to be evaluated. Future research is necessary to understand how opioid substitution therapy might work: (1) where transmission of HIV is predominantly sexual and (2) where injecting drug use occurs within very different social and economic contexts.

Asia [5], Europe [6], Northern America [7]
Canada [8], China [9], Estonia [10], France [11], Indonesia [12], Netherlands [13], Spain [14], Switzerland [15], United States of America [16]
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