HIV and Drug Addiction
HIV and drug addiction have always been inexorably linked. Since HIV began making headlines in the 80’s, drug addicts were one of the key demographics for the outbreak. Indeed, I’ve met several people in recovery who are HIV positive. Sometimes, part of the consequences for using drugs is that you contract diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.
For many years, people have assumed that the link between HIV and drug addiction was solely due to IV drugs and sharing needles. However, this greatly underestimates the impact of drug addiction on the spread of HIV. Drug addiction also leads to risky sexual behavior which can increase your chances of contracting HIV.
No vaccine yet exists to protect a person from getting HIV, and there is no cure. However, HIV has become less virulent in recent years, meaning that it is not as deadly. The virus has mutated and evolved as it has been passed from person to person, and the strains that have been identified these days seem to be multiplying at a slower rate and are less resistant to HIV drugs than the strains when the virus was first identified in the 1980’s. Add to that the fact that we have developed new and better drugs to combat HIV, and it is now possible for a person with HIV to lead a fairly normal life. However, obviously, prevention is the preferable option.
HIV and Drug Addiction: Prevention
In a perfect world, no one would use IV drugs. But those of us who suffer the disease of addiction know that this is unrealistic. Without treatment, without recovery, a drug addict will continue to use drugs despite the consequences.
Needle exchange programs cut down on the correlation between HIV and drug addiction because they allow drug addicts to exchange used needles for clean ones, so they are less likely to share needles. Unfortunately, they are also very controversial and thus not available in many states. Critics believe that allowing addicts to exchange their needles will lead to increased numbers of IV drug abusers, even though several studies have shown this is not the case. However, needle exchanges are still federally banned, so unless you live in a community that has their own, this is likely not an option.
Some pharmacies will sell needles without a prescription, but this is usually left up to the discretion of the pharmacist on duty, so it is not a sure shot. Often it is hit or miss, and sometimes, drug addicts can’t afford to buy new needles, even when a pharmacist is willing to sell them.
Engaging in unprotected sex is a huge risk to contracting HIV. A woman is twice as likely as a man to contract HIV during vaginal sex. Using protection during sexual intercourse (including oral sex) is vital to the prevention of HIV infections. 77 percent of sexually active females between the ages of 14 and 22 who have used at least 5 substances in their lifetime said they didn’t use a condom compared to 65% of men within the same age group.
HIV and Drug Addiction: Facts
- The CDC estimates that more than one million people are living with HIV in the United States.
- One in five of those people living with HIV are unaware of their infection.
- Men who have sex with men account for more than half of annual new HIV infections.
- If new HIV infections continue at their current rate worldwide , women with HIV may soon outnumber men with HIV.
If you or a loved one is in need of drug and/or alcohol addiction treatment please give us a call at 800-951-6135.