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  1. Bojko MJ, Mazhnaya A, Marcus R, Makarenko I, Islam Z, Filippovych S, et al.
    J Subst Abuse Treat, 2016 07;66:37-47.
    PMID: 27211995 DOI: 10.1016/j.jsat.2016.03.003
    Opioid agonist therapies (OAT) to treat opioid addiction in people who inject drugs (PWID) began in Ukraine in 2004. Scale-up of OAT, however, has been hampered by both low enrollment and high attrition. To better understand the factors influencing OAT retention among PWID in Ukraine, qualitative data from 199 PWIDs were collected during 25 focus groups conducted in five Ukrainian cities from February to April 2013. The experiences of PWID who were currently or previously on OAT or currently trying to access OAT were analyzed to identify entry and retention barriers encountered. Transcribed data were analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Individual beliefs about OAT, particularly misaligned treatment goals between clients and providers, influenced PWID's treatment seeking behaviors. Multiple programmatic and structural issues, including inconvenient hours and treatment site locations, complicated dosing regimens, inflexible medication dispensing guidelines, and mistreatment by clinic and medical staff also strongly influenced OAT retention. Findings suggest the need for both programmatic and policy-level structural changes such as revising legal regulations covering OAT dispensing, formalizing prescription dosing policies and making OAT more available through other sites, including primary care settings as a way to improve treatment retention. Quality improvement interventions that target treatment settings could also be deployed to overcome healthcare delivery barriers. Additional patient education and medical professional development around establishing realistic treatment goals as well as community awareness campaigns that address the myths and fears associated with OAT can be leveraged to overcome individual, family and community-level barriers.
  2. Polonsky M, Azbel L, Wegman MP, Izenberg JM, Bachireddy C, Wickersham JA, et al.
    J Int AIDS Soc, 2016;19(4 Suppl 3):20880.
    PMID: 27435715 DOI: 10.7448/IAS.19.4.20880
    INTRODUCTION: The expanding HIV epidemic in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan is concentrated among people who inject drugs (PWID), who comprise a third of prisoners there. Detention of PWID is common but its impact on health has not been previously studied in the region. We aimed to understand the relationship between official and unofficial (police harassment) detention of PWID and HIV risk behaviours.

    METHODS: In a nationally representative cross-sectional study, soon-to-be released prisoners in Kyrgyzstan (N=368) and Azerbaijan (N=510) completed standardized health assessment surveys. After identifying correlated variables through bivariate testing, we built multi-group path models with pre-incarceration official and unofficial detention as exogenous variables and pre-incarceration composite HIV risk as an endogenous variable, controlling for potential confounders and estimating indirect effects.

    RESULTS: Overall, 463 (51%) prisoners reported at least one detention in the year before incarceration with an average of 1.3 detentions in that period. Unofficial detentions (13%) were less common than official detentions (41%). Optimal model fit was achieved (X (2)=5.83, p=0.44; Goodness of Fit Index (GFI) GFI=0.99; Comparative Fit Index (CFI) CFI=1.00; Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) RMSEA=0.00; PCLOSE=0.98) when unofficial detention had an indirect effect on HIV risk, mediated by drug addiction severity, with more detentions associated with higher addiction severity, which in turn correlated with increased HIV risk. The final model explained 35% of the variance in the outcome. The effect was maintained for both countries, but stronger for Kyrgyzstan. The model also holds for Kyrgyzstan using unique data on within-prison drug injection as the outcome, which was frequent in prisoners there.

    CONCLUSIONS: Detention by police is a strong correlate of addiction severity, which mediates its effect on HIV risk behaviour. This pattern suggests that police may target drug users and that such harassment may result in an increase in HIV risk-taking behaviours, primarily because of the continued drug use within prisons. These findings highlight the important negative role that police play in the HIV epidemic response and point to the urgent need for interventions to reduce police harassment, in parallel with interventions to reduce HIV transmission within and outside of prison.

  3. Marcus R, Bojko MJ, Mazhnaya A, Makarenko I, Filippovych S, Dvoriak S, et al.
    J Subst Abuse Treat, 2018 03;86:86-93.
    PMID: 29415856 DOI: 10.1016/j.jsat.2018.01.003
    Numerous individual barriers, including negative attitudes toward opioid agonist therapies (OAT), have undermined HIV prevention efforts in Ukraine where the epidemic is concentrated in people who inject drugs (PWID). The recent availability of extended-release naltrexone (XR-NTX), an opioid antagonist, provides new opportunities for treatment and prevention, but little is known about patient preferences. We conducted qualitative analysis using focus groups (FG) of PWID recruited based on OAT experience: currently, previously, and never on OAT in five Ukrainian cities. FG included 199 PWID in 25 focus groups. Focus group transcripts were coded and analyzed using a modified grounded theory approach to identify common themes and domains related to attitudes about and preferences for XR-NTX, relative to other treatments. Interest in XR-NTX was supported if supervised opioid withdrawal and psychological support were assured. Other factors supporting XR-NTX included a focus on younger PWID early in their injection career and motivated for recovery. Perceptions of recovery included not receiving psychoactive medications like methadone or buprenorphine. With more information, XR-NTX could be a viable option for PWID in Ukraine, especially if concerns regarding withdrawal and psychological support are adequately addressed.
  4. Azbel L, Polonsky M, Wegman M, Shumskaya N, Kurmanalieva A, Asanov A, et al.
    PMID: 27455177 DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2016.06.007
    BACKGROUND: Central Asia is afflicted with increasing HIV incidence, low antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage and increasing AIDS mortality, driven primarily by people who inject drugs (PWID). Reliable data about HIV, other infectious diseases, and substance use disorders in prisoners in this region is lacking and could provide important insights into how to improve HIV prevention and treatment efforts in the region.

    METHODS: A randomly sampled, nationwide biobehavioural health survey was conducted in 8 prisons in Kyrgyzstan among all soon-to-be-released prisoners; women were oversampled. Consented participants underwent computer-assisted, standardized behavioural health assessment surveys and testing for HIV, HCV, HBV, and syphilis. Prevalence and means were computed, and generalized linear modelling was conducted, with all analyses using weights to account for disproportionate sampling by strata.

    RESULTS: Among 381 prisoners who underwent consent procedures, 368 (96.6%) were enrolled in the study. Women were significantly older than men (40.6 vs. 36.5; p=0.004). Weighted prevalence (%), with confidence interval (CI), for each infection was high: HCV (49.7%; CI: 44.8-54.6%), syphilis (19.2%; CI: 15.1-23.5%), HIV (10.3%; CI: 6.9-13.8%), and HBV (6.2%; CI: 3.6-8.9%). Among the 31 people with HIV, 46.5% were aware of being HIV-infected. Men, compared to women, were significantly more likely to have injected drugs (38.3% vs.16.0%; p=0.001). Pre-incarceration and within-prison drug injection, primarily of opioids, was 35.4% and 30.8%, respectively. Independent correlates of HIV infection included lifetime drug injection (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=38.75; p=0.001), mean number of years injecting (AOR=0.93; p=0.018), mean number of days experiencing drug problems (AOR=1.09; p=0.025), increasing duration of imprisonment (AOR=1.08; p=0.02 for each year) and having syphilis (AOR=3.51; p=0.003), while being female (AOR=3.06; p=0.004) and being a recidivist offender (AOR=2.67; p=0.008) were independently correlated with syphilis infection.

    CONCLUSION: Drug injection, syphilis co-infection, and exposure to increased risk during incarceration are likely to be important contributors to HIV transmission among prisoners in Kyrgyzstan. Compared to the community, HIV is concentrated 34-fold higher in prisoners. A high proportion of undiagnosed syphilis and HIV infections presents a significant gap in the HIV care continuum. Findings highlight the critical importance of evidence-based responses within prison, including enhanced testing for HIV and sexually transmitted infections, to stem the evolving HIV epidemic in the region.

  5. Marcus R, Makarenko I, Mazhnaya A, Zelenev A, Polonsky M, Madden L, et al.
    Drug Alcohol Depend, 2017 10 01;179:213-219.
    PMID: 28806638 DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.07.010
    BACKGROUND: Scaling up HIV prevention for people who inject drugs (PWID) using opioid agonist therapies (OAT) in Ukraine has been restricted by individual and structural factors. Extended-release naltrexone (XR-NTX), however, provides new opportunities for treating opioid use disorders (OUDs) in this region, where both HIV incidence and mortality continue to increase.

    METHODS: Survey results from 1613 randomly selected PWID from 5 regions in Ukraine who were currently, previously or never on OAT were analyzed for their preference of pharmacological therapies for treating OUDs. For those preferring XR-NTX, independent correlates of their willingness to initiate XR-NTX were examined.

    RESULTS: Among the 1613 PWID, 449 (27.8%) were interested in initiating XR-NTX. Independent correlates associated with interest in XR-NTX included: being from Mykolaiv (AOR=3.7, 95% CI=2.3-6.1) or Dnipro (AOR=1.8, 95% CI=1.1-2.9); never having been on OAT (AOR=3.4, 95% CI=2.1-5.4); shorter-term injectors (AOR=0.9, 95% CI 0.9-0.98); and inversely for both positive (AOR=0.8, CI=0.8-0.9), and negative attitudes toward OAT (AOR=1.3, CI=1.2-1.4), respectively.

    CONCLUSIONS: In the context of Eastern Europe and Central Asia where HIV is concentrated in PWID and where HIV prevention with OAT is under-scaled, new options for treating OUDs are urgently needed.

    FINDINGS: here suggest that XR-NTX could become an option for addiction treatment and HIV prevention especially for PWID who have shorter duration of injection and who harbor negative attitudes to OAT. Decision aids that inform patient preferences with accurate information about the various treatment options are likely to guide patients toward better, patient-centered treatments and improve treatment entry and retention.

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