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Drug dependent women who are abused physically by their sex partners will be the focus of a groundbreaking study by researchers at the Columbia University School of Social Work. Supported by a $1.4 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the study will be the first to examine the prevalence of sexual or physical abuse among impoverished drug dependent women in urban minority communities. Seven-hundred and fifty women will be recruited from methadone clinics in Harlem as participants in the study. The goal of the study, according to Columbia Social Work Professor Nabila El-Bassel who was awarded the NIDA grant, is to understand the relationship between drug dependency, sexual behavior and physical abuse among women. The investigators expect the study will lay the groundwork for the design of preventive and treatment strategies for these women. The results, Professor El-Bassel said, have implications for reducing HIV infection. Previous studies suggest that where women trade sex for drugs or money, the use of condoms may be compromised by the threat of physical abuse or an offer of more drugs or money for unprotected sex. "Abuse by a partner has been implicated in sexual behavior that is a risk factor for HIV infection," Professor El-Bassel said. "This study will help us understand how abusive situations lead to HIV risk behaviors and how to help women avoid them." The study is one of several being conducted by the Social Intervention Group, a 40-member team at the School of Social Work that include social workers, psychologists and social scientists. Social Work Professor Robert F. Schilling is director of the Group and Professor El-Bassel is associate director. Previous research suggests that women in methadone treatment, who also have high rates of crack-cocaine use, are two to three times more likely to be abused by a partner. Few studies have examined the relationship between partner abuse and sexual risk behavior and drug abuse. The findings could help women like Jessie B., a participant in a related study by Professor El-Bassel, which found that women who trade sex for drugs were likely to suffer significant mental health problems. A 40-year-old woman who is homeless and a crack addict, Jessie B. reported being abused by men with whom she exchanged sex for drugs or money. She had sex with as many as 10 partners a day, for which she received a total of $30 to $50 and told Columbia researchers that when she agreed not to use a condom, she was paid more. The study concluded that poor mental health and drug dependency undermined safe sex practices by such women and that drug treatment needed to be combined with psychological services to reduce the risk of HIV. The findings were reported in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health. That study led Professor El-Bassel to her current research in an effort to find ways to sever the relationship between drug dependency, physical abuse and unsafe sexual practices that increase the risk of HIV infection. The Social Invention Group, which was founded in 1990 by Professors Schilling and El-Bassel, has focused its research on developing preventive strategies to reduce substance abuse, HIV transmission and domestic abuse in low-income urban communities. Its researchers, a diverse ethnic and racial group, speak eight languages. The group was the first to explore the acceptability of the female condom among methadone patients. The device is presently in use in HIV prevention trials in hospitals and clinics across the nation. SIG researchers are currently also studying the experiences of immigrant women in abusive situtations in an effort to develop culturally-appropriate intervention methods and preventive services. The research is being carried out in South Asian, East Asian and Arab-American communities in New York. 3.13.97 19,067