Objectives Most female street-based sex workers (SSWs) are drug users and this group experience particularly poor outcomes in achieving and maintaining abstinence. In 2010 the UK adopted a recovery-orientated Drug Strategy. This strategy did not specifically highlight the complex drug treatment needs of SSWs. Therefore we sought to synthesise and critically appraise existing evidence of interventions to reduce illicit drug use in this group, in order to guide service change toward better provision for the drug treatment needs of SSWs.
Methods A systematic review of evidence on the effectiveness of interventions to reduce illicit drug use in female SSWs. Following the PRISMA guidelines, a structured search strategy was used. Searches included databases, organisational and government websites to identify published and grey literature, as well as contacting experts in the field, and hand-searching reference lists and journals.
Results Six studies, one experimental and five observational, were identified which met review inclusion criteria. Intervention approaches evaluated included substitute prescribing, educational sessions and motivational interviewing. All studies reported a positive intervention effect but the five observational studies were all subject to a relatively high risk of bias. By contrast, the experimental study provided little or no evidence of positive effect (OR for reduction of illicit drug in intervention compared to controls 1.17 95%CI 0.84–1.66 at 3 months and 1.14 (95% CI 0.8 to 1.61) at 6 months follow-up). All six studies described challenges and solutions to study recruitment, retention and follow-up, which were influenced by issues affecting SSWs’ health and social stability.
Conclusions There is currently no strong evidence for effectiveness of interventions to reduce illicit drug use in female SSWs with problematic drug use. Thus, the development and robust evaluation of effective interventions should be a priority if recovery-orientated goals are to become more achievable for this group.
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