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Clinical characteristics and treatment outcomes of women with heroin dependence in Johannesburg, South Africa

N Morgan, W Daniels, U Subramaney

Abstract


Background. There has been a steady increase in the number of women with heroin dependence in South Africa (SA). Data from developed countries suggest that women with substance use disorder have unique treatment needs. There are limited SA data on women with heroin dependence and their response to treatment.

Objectives. To describe the clinical and psychosocial characteristics of women entering inpatient rehabilitation for heroin dependence, determine the outcomes of treatment 3 and 9 months after rehabilitation, and compare these findings with male heroin users.

Methods. We conducted a longitudinal study of 44 women with heroin dependence who were admitted to a rehabilitation facility in the West Rand Municipality of Gauteng Province, SA. The participants were assessed during admission and 3 and 9 months after leaving inpatient rehabilitation. Structured interviews measured changes in drug use, psychopathology, social functioning, injecting and sexual behaviour, criminality and general health. Statistical analysis of these outcomes and comparison between women and men at 3 months and 9 months was performed by a generalised estimating equation. Fixed and time-varying covariates were included in the models.

Results. At baseline, 40% of female participants were HIV-positive, 50% engaged in sex work, 27% were injecting heroin users, and 75% were diagnosed with a comorbid mental illness. Thirty-seven (84%) and 30 (68%) were re-interviewed at the 3- and 9-month follow-up points, respectively. Of these, 6 were abstinent from all substances at 3 months and 2 at 9 months. Compared with males, females had a higher prevalence of HIV infection (p=0.006) and mental illness (p=0.0002) at enrolment. At 9 months, women had similar levels of drug use and criminality to men but scored significantly worse in terms of general health, social function and risky sexual behaviour.

Conclusions. Women with heroin dependence in Johannesburg have high rates of HIV infection and comorbid mental illness and low rates of abstinence after inpatient detoxification and psychosocial therapy. Women fared worse than men in many domains of treatment outcome. This study builds evidence for the need for gender-sensitive substance rehabilitation facilities in SA.

 


Authors' affiliations

N Morgan, Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

W Daniels, School of Physiology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

U Subramaney, Department of Psychiatry, School of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Keywords

Nyaope, Heroin, Women with heroin dependence, Gender gap, Comorbidities, Treatment outcomes

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2020;110(6):540-545. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2020.v110i6.14304

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-05-29
Date published: 2020-05-29

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