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New Couple-Based Intervention for Drug Users in New York City Considerably Reduces Behaviors Linked to HIV/STIs

November 2011—Over the years, research has established a strong association between drug use and risky sexual practices among heterosexuals in committed relationships. These behaviors as well as injecting drug use increase the rates of HIV/STI transmission. In a study aimed at reducing these risks, the research team developed and tested a relationship-based prevention intervention for drug-involved heterosexual couples, who were HIV-negative. They also tested whether the intervention is more effective when both members of the couple receive it together than separately. Couples were recruited through community organizations, street outreach, and the media to take part in the study.

Study Details:

  • 282 HIV-negative drug-involved couples were randomly assigned to receive the intervention as a couple, as an individual, or receive a wellness promotion that served as the control group
  • Participants learned communication skills, problem-solving techniques, how to identify triggers that lead to unsafe sex and drug use, and where to seek help
  • Data were collected via an audio computer-assisted self-interview (ACASI)

Major Findings:

  • Over a 12-month follow-up, there was a significant reduction in unprotected sex as well as sharing needles and syringes
  • Those who received the intervention as a couple were better at maintaining risk reduction compared to those who received it as an individual
  • Findings suggest that working together as a couple may promote longer lasting change in helping to reduce sexual and drug risks

High participation, attendance and retention rates achieved in this trial indicate that drug using couples, who remain at high risk for HIV/STI transmission are interested and willing to take part in a couple-based behavioral intervention.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded this study. For more information, you may refer to the original paper.