Heroin dependence is associated with severe negative outcomes such as HIV and hepatitis C transmission, criminal activity, imprisonment and death from opioid overdose. Opioid substitution treatment (OST) is the most effective treatment available for heroin dependence, resulting in reduced heroin use, HIV transmission, criminal activity and mortality. It is cost-effective and has higher retention rates than other forms of treatment for drug dependence. OST is available in at least 66 countries and territories, including low- and middle-income nations such as China, Indonesia and Iran. The World Health Organization, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have recommended the implementation of OST in prisons as an essential part of HIV prevention programming. It is argued that, as in the community, heroin-using inmates treated with opioid substitution will inject drugs less often, thus reducing the risk of HIV transmission between prisoners sharing needles and syringes. Other grounds for implementing OST in prisons include improvements in inmate manageability and prison safety and reductions in postrelease criminal activity and re-incarceration.

1st March 2009 • comment