Aims: Syringe exchange has been suggested as a potential conduit to treatment for drug dependence, but this has never been documented in Europe. The primary aim was to compare the effectiveness of strength-based case management intervention (CMI) against referral only to facilitate treatment attendance in a syringe exchange programme. We also assessed the effectiveness of a syringe exchange programme for referral of heroin-dependent patients to evidence-based treatment with methadone or buprenorphine (buprenorphine-naloxone).
Design: Single-site, two-group randomized controlled trial.
Setting: The syringe exchange programme in Malmö, Sweden and an out-patient clinic (research treatment facility) for maintenance treatment, situated outside the hospital area and run by Malmö Addiction Centre.
Participants: Heroin-dependent patients willing to participate (n = 75) were referred to maintenance treatment and randomized to either a strength-based case management intervention aiming to facilitate referral (n = 36) or to referral-only (n = 39).
Intervention: The intervention group received an appointment for maintenance treatment and a CMI adjusted to individual patient needs. The CMI was semi-structured, assessing the patients' strengths and needs and identifying what practical help they might need to get to the appointment for maintenance treatment. The control group received an appointment for maintenance treatment.
Measures: The primary outcome was treatment entry.
Findings: Among patients who turned up for recruitment interview and randomization, the percentage of patients who started treatment was 95% in the intervention group and 94% in the control group. Treatment entry was unrelated to intervention status [unadjusted odds ratio (OR) = 0.92 (0.12–6.89), P = 1.00 and adjusted OR = 0.96 (0.12–7.83)].
Conclusions: A randomized controlled trial in a syringe exchange programme showed no evidence that a strength-based case management intervention improved attendance for treatment over referral alone. Attendance rates were high in both groups.