Does opioid substitution treatment in prisons reduce injecting-related HIV risk behaviours? A systematic review


Sarah Larney, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. E-mail:


Objectives  To review systematically the evidence on opioid substitution treatment (OST) in prisons in reducing injecting-related human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) risk behaviours.

Methods  Systematic review in accordance with guidelines of the Cochrane Collaboration. Electronic databases were searched to identify studies of prison-based opioid substitution treatment programmes that included assessment of effects of prison OST on injecting drug use, sharing of needles and syringes and HIV incidence. Published data were used to calculate risk ratios for outcomes of interest. Risk ratios were not pooled due to the low number of studies and differences in study designs.

Results  Five studies were included in the review. Poor follow-up rates were reported in two studies, and representativeness of the sample was uncertain in the remaining three studies. Compared to inmates in control conditions, for treated inmates the risk of injecting drug use was reduced by 55–75% and risk of needle and syringe sharing was reduced by 47–73%. No study reported a direct effect of prison OST on HIV incidence.

Conclusions  There may be a role for OST in preventing HIV transmission in prisons, but methodologically rigorous research addressing this question specifically is required. OST should be implemented in prisons as part of comprehensive HIV prevention programmes that also provide condoms and sterile injecting and tattooing equipment.