Interventions for drug-using offenders with co-occurring mental health problems

Amanda E Perry, Marrissa Martyn-St James, Lucy Burns, Catherine Hewitt, Julie M Glanville, Anne Aboaja, Pratish Thakkar, Keshava Murthy Santosh Kumar, Caroline Pearson, Kath Wright, Shilpi Swami

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: This review represents one from a family of three reviews focusing on interventions for drug-using offenders. Many people under the care of the criminal justice system have co-occurring mental health problems and drug misuse problems; it is important to identify the most effective treatments for this vulnerable population.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness of interventions for drug-using offenders with co-occurring mental health problems in reducing criminal activity or drug use, or both.This review addresses the following questions.• Does any treatment for drug-using offenders with co-occurring mental health problems reduce drug use?• Does any treatment for drug-using offenders with co-occurring mental health problems reduce criminal activity?• Does the treatment setting (court, community, prison/secure establishment) affect intervention outcome(s)?• Does the type of treatment affect treatment outcome(s)?

SEARCH METHODS: We searched 12 databases up to February 2019 and checked the reference lists of included studies. We contacted experts in the field for further information.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials designed to prevent relapse of drug use and/or criminal activity among drug-using offenders with co-occurring mental health problems.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard methodological procedures as expected by Cochrane .

MAIN RESULTS: We included 13 studies with a total of 2606 participants. Interventions were delivered in prison (eight studies; 61%), in court (two studies; 15%), in the community (two studies; 15%), or at a medium secure hospital (one study; 8%). Main sources of bias were unclear risk of selection bias and high risk of detection bias.Four studies compared a therapeutic community intervention versus (1) treatment as usual (two studies; 266 participants), providing moderate-certainty evidence that participants who received the intervention were less likely to be involved in subsequent criminal activity (risk ratio (RR) 0.67, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.53 to 0.84) or returned to prison (RR 0.40, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.67); (2) a cognitive-behavioural therapy (one study; 314 participants), reporting no significant reduction in self-reported drug use (RR 0.78, 95% CI 0.46 to 1.32), re-arrest for any type of crime (RR 0.69, 95% CI 0.44 to 1.09), criminal activity (RR 0.74, 95% CI 0.52 to 1.05), or drug-related crime (RR 0.87, 95% CI 0.56 to 1.36), yielding low-certainty evidence; and (3) a waiting list control (one study; 478 participants), showing a significant reduction in return to prison for those people engaging in the therapeutic community (RR 0.60, 95% CI 0.46 to 0.79), providing moderate-certainty evidence.One study (235 participants) compared a mental health treatment court with an assertive case management model versus treatment as usual, showing no significant reduction at 12 months' follow-up on an Addictive Severity Index (ASI) self-report of drug use (mean difference (MD) 0.00, 95% CI -0.03 to 0.03), conviction for a new crime (RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.90 to 1.22), or re-incarceration to jail (RR 0.79, 95% CI 0.62 to 1.01), providing low-certainty evidence.Four studies compared motivational interviewing/mindfulness and cognitive skills with relaxation therapy (one study), a waiting list control (one study), or treatment as usual (two studies). In comparison to relaxation training, one study reported narrative information on marijuana use at three-month follow-up assessment. Researchers reported a main effect < .007 with participants in the motivational interviewing group, showing fewer problems than participants in the relaxation training group, with moderate-certainty evidence. In comparison to a waiting list control, one study reported no significant reduction in self-reported drug use based on the ASI (MD -0.04, 95% CI -0.37 to 0.29) and on abstinence from drug use (RR 2.89, 95% CI 0.73 to 11.43), presenting low-certainty evidence at six months (31 participants). In comparison to treatment as usual, two studies (with 40 participants) found no significant reduction in frequency of marijuana use at three months post release (MD -1.05, 95% CI -2.39 to 0.29) nor time to first arrest (MD 0.87, 95% CI -0.12 to 1.86), along with a small reduction in frequency of re-arrest (MD -0.66, 95% CI -1.31 to -0.01) up to 36 months, yielding low-certainty evidence; the other study with 80 participants found no significant reduction in positive drug screens at 12 months (MD -0.7, 95% CI -3.5 to 2.1), providing very low-certainty evidence.Two studies reported on the use of multi-systemic therapy involving juveniles and families versus treatment as usual and adolescent substance abuse therapy. In comparing treatment as usual, researchers found no significant reduction up to seven months in drug dependence on the Drug Use Disorders Identification Test (DUDIT) score (MD -0.22, 95% CI -2.51 to 2.07) nor in arrests (RR 0.97, 95% CI 0.70 to 1.36), providing low-certainty evidence (156 participants). In comparison to an adolescent substance abuse therapy, one study (112 participants) found significant reduction in re-arrests up to 24 months (MD 0.24, 95% CI 0.76 to 0.28), based on low-certainty evidence.One study (38 participants) reported on the use of interpersonal psychotherapy in comparison to a psychoeducational intervention. Investigators found no significant reduction in self-reported drug use at three months (RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.30 to 1.50), providing very low-certainty evidence. The final study (29 participants) compared legal defence service and wrap-around social work services versus legal defence service only and found no significant reductions in the number of new offences committed at 12 months (RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.07 to 6.01), yielding very low-certainty evidence.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Therapeutic community interventions and mental health treatment courts may help people to reduce subsequent drug use and/or criminal activity. For other interventions such as interpersonal psychotherapy, multi-systemic therapy, legal defence wrap-around services, and motivational interviewing, the evidence is more uncertain. Studies showed a high degree of variation, warranting a degree of caution in interpreting the magnitude of effect and the direction of benefit for treatment outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD010901
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 The Cochrane Collaboration.

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