Psychosocial interventions for the reduction of injection and sexual risk behaviour for preventing HIV in drug users

People who misuse drugs are at greater risk of developing HIV. Interventions designed to reduce this risk have been developed. There were 35 trials on 11,867 participants that examined whether these interventions are effective in reducing sexual and injection behaviour associated with greater risk of developing HIV. There are not large differences in effectiveness between multi-session psychosocial interventions and briefer interventions. This suggests brief educational interventions are more likely to be cost-effective and may be more readily implemented in a variety of different contexts.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is limited support for the widespread use of formal multi-session psychosocial interventions for reducing injection and sexual risk behaviour. Brief standard education interventions appear to be a more cost-effective option. Further research is required to assess if there are particular groups of drug users more likely to respond to such interventions.

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Drug users (including both injection drug users and crack cocaine users), are at high levels of risk for contracting HIV. Therefore it is important to reduce the injection and/or sexual risk behaviours of these groups both for the benefit of themselves and for society as a whole.


To assess the efficacy of multi-session psychosocial interventions in comparison with standard education and minimal intervention controls for the reduction of injection and sexual risk behaviour.

Search strategy: 

Electronic searches were conducted of a number of bibliographic databases (including Cochrane Library, CINAHL, MEDLINE, PsycINFO). In addition, other methods of locating papers were employed including contacting various authors working in the field of HIV risk reduction and examining reference lists of applicable papers identified in the electronic search.

Selection criteria: 

The inclusion criteria consisted of randomised and quazi-randomised trials assessing the efficacy of psychosocial interventions in the reduction of injection and sexual risk behaviour for people who misused opiates, cocaine, or a combination of these drugs.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently assessed the eligibility of studies identified by the search strategy, quality assessed these studies and extracted the data. A total of 35 trials met the eligibility criteria of the review providing data on 11,867 participants.

Main results: 

There were minimal differences identified between multi-session psychosocial interventions and standard educational interventions for both injection and sexual risk behaviour. Although it should be noted there were large pre-post changes for both groups suggesting both were effective in reducing risk behaviours. In addition, there was some evidence of benefit for multi-session psychosocial interventions when compared with minimal controls. Subgroup analyses suggest that people in formal treatment are likely to respond to multi-session psychosocial interventions. It also appears single-gender groups may be associated with greater benefit.