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MedUni Vienna launches pan-European study involving female drug addicts

(Vienna 1st March 2012) Since 1 December 2011, a study arranged through the EU-sponsored REDUCE project has been running at the MedUni Vienna and will continue for a further 24 months. The aim of this study is to reduce the rate of infection with hepatitis C among female drug addicts in Austria and the EU. Psychology has an important role to play as one of the approaches in this project.

In Austria alone, around one per cent of the population - or around 80,000 people - are affected by a potentially life-threatening hepatitis C infection. Particularly at risk from the condition are intravenous drug users – i.e. people who inject drugs using syringes: in Austria, up to 73 per cent of this group are affected by hepatitis C, with women accounting for particularly high numbers.

Intravenous injection of drugs is the main transmission pathway                         for hepatitis C
The EU is now financing a long-term project, REDUCE, which will run in five European countries, and aims to reduce the spread of hepatitis C in women who engage in substance abuse. As well as Spain, Scotland, Poland and Italy, the Medical University of Vienna has also been able to secure EU funding. Gabriele Fischer, addiction expert at the MedUni Vienna and head of the substance abuse outpatient clinic at the University Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, says: “In industrialised countries such as Austria, the sharing of syringes for intravenous substance injection is one of the main transmission routes of hepatitis C. This is precisely why this project and its sponsorship by the EU is so important."

Developing psychological treatment methods to prevent hepatitis C
“The REDUCE project takes a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, we have the latest results from literature and on the other we have tried-and-tested measures aimed at prevention. We want to create gender-sensitive – in other words particularly suitable for women - psychological treatment methods and use them in the most effective way possible,” says Manfred Maler from the Department of General Medicine at the Centre for Public Health at the MedUni Vienna, explaining how the project will operate. In terms of content, the study uses psychological measures such as psychoeducation and relapse prophylaxis as well as training to reduce risky behaviour, improve communication skills, manage mood fluctuations, develop personality traits and reduce violence in partnerships. In the past, this approach has proven effective at improving the risk-taking behaviour of people infected with hepatitis C. At the end of the project, the information gained will be made available to all of the specialists who work in this field as free documentation.

A study spanning two years involving 400 women from five countries
All in all, 400 women will take part in REDUCE who abuse illegal substances such as cocaine, amphetamines and heroin. 80 each of these women, with and without hepatitis C infection, come from five of the countries taking part in the study, which lasts 24 months. To take part in the study, the individual must have declared the desire to have their substance addiction treated.

Focus on improving risk-taking behaviour
The changes in knowledge and behaviour based on the measures instigated among the addicts taking part in the study will be scientifically evaluated. To this end, specially-developed qualitative and quantitative interviews will be carried out before and after treatment and the results compared. This comparison will focus on measuring risk-taking behaviour for hepatitis C infection and the individual's knowledge regarding how hepatitis C can be transmitted.

Hepatitis C: 170 million infected worldwide, and the numbers are increasing
The infectious disease hepatitis C primarily damages the liver and becomes a chronic condition in around 80 per cent of cases. The infection is transmitted exclusively through blood. Depending on the disease’s activity, untreated hepatitis C can cause liver cirrhosis in around a quarter of cases and, as a consequence, liver cancer. Treatment is possible to a limited degree, however there is as yet no vaccine available. Worldwide, around 170 million people are infected with hepatitis C, with around 1.2 to 5 million living in the European Union and around 80,000 people affected by it in Austria.