Sector News

  1. Cost-effectiveness of Harm Reduction Strategies

    Background

    Health care providers and governments across the globe are faced with an urgent task to improve health outcomes for PWID, specifically reducing increasing rates of HIV and HCV transmission.

    Approach

    The authors assess needle exchange programs (NSPs), opioid substitution therapy (ORT), and antiretroviral therapy (ART) in isolation and then in combination.

    Findings

    Effectiveness and Cost-effectiveness of needle syringe programs (NSPs)

    • NSPs are generally the least expensive at $23 -$71 (US) per person each year. This variation is cost depends on region of the world and the delivery system (e.g. pharmacies, mobile outreach).

    Effectiveness and Cost effectiveness of opioid substitution therapy (OST)

    • OST is a structural intervention with other societal benefits. Although it is more expensive than NSP, the largest benefits relate to a reduction in the number and severity of relapses due to opiate use, as well as, lower rates of criminal activity and incarceration for drug related crimes. OSTs are particularly more cost effective when these factors are included in economic analyses.

    Effectiveness and Cost effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy ART

    • Several studies have shown that ART is cost-effective for both keeping people alive and for the prevention benefits it offers.
    • A Russian study found that ART would cost approximately $1501 (US) per QALY gained when targeted to PWID. This is considered good value for money.
    • ART costs are expected to decline by 2020

    Effectiveness and Cost effectiveness of combination strategies

    • Comprehensive strategies appear to be a better approach because generally no single harm reduction strategy is sufficient.
    • Research shows that needle syringe programs (NSPs), opioid substitution programs, and antiretroviral therapy (ART) together have shown to be effective to reduce drug dependency, reduce injection equipment sharing, improve quality of life, and avoid HIV infections.
    • Overall, the unit cost of harm reduction interventions is low, but it can vary based on type of provider, delivery model, and region.

    Conclusion

    Harm reduction interventions are good value for the money invested and improve health outcomes for PWID, as well as, the broader population. Currently, coverage of harm reduction programs is too low across almost all global regions. Although scaling up is costly, it is worthwhile not only for the societal benefits, but also for the significant returns on investment for governments.

    Wilson, D.P., Donald, B., Shattock, A.J., Wilson, D., and Fraser-Hunt, N. (2015). The cost-effectiveness of harm reduction. International Journal of Drug Policy. Vol. 26, pp. S5-S11.