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DRCNet Response to the
Drug Enforcement Administration
Drug Abuse and AIDS
By the National Institute on Drug Abuse
Substance abusers, especially those who inject drugs, are at greater risk for HIV/AIDS than people who do not use drugs. Injecting drug abusers account for 20 percent of cases among men, 50 percent of cases among women, and about 55 percent of pediatric cases (children of mothers who are injecting drug abusers or mothers who have sex with male injecting drug abusers). AIDS has been diagnosed among injectors of various illicit substances, including opiates, cocaine, amphetamines, and anabolic steroids. AIDS has also been reported among non-injecting drug abusers, such as alcoholics, cocaine "snorters" and "crack" smokers, who are infected through sexual contact.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is caused by a viral infection. The virus is named HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and is one of a group of viruses called retroviruses. HIV gradually destroys certain white blood cells called T-helper lymphocytes. The loss of these cells results in the body's inability to control microbial organisms that the normal immune system controls easily. These infections are called opportunistic because they take advantage of damage to part of the immune system.
Injecting drugs of abuse and sharing needles may lead to infection with HIV, but drug abuse may also operate in conjunction with HIV to affect the transmission or progression of the disease. For example, some data suggests that HIV-infected individuals who continue to inject drugs and/or continue tobacco use do not survive as long as individuals who do not abuse those substances. There is also an association of the abuse of nitrate inhalants ("poppers") among HIV-infected homosexual men and the development of Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare skin cancer associated with AIDS.
HIV can be transmitted from person to person in three ways: intimate sexual contact; exposure to infected blood or blood products; and from an infected pregnant mother to her fetus. The most common way for drug abusers to become infected is by sharing needles and syringes. Nearly one-third of AIDS cases in this country result directly or indirectly from injecting drugs.
Direct inoculation of blood containing HIV occurs when one injects illicit substances such as heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines after an HIV-infected person.
Sexual contact is also a common route of transmission between drug abusers and to other sexual partners. The trading of sex for drugs or money has played a key role in the spread of HIV/AIDS, just as it has with other sexually transmitted diseases.
The AIDS epidemic has had a profound effect on minority communities, particularly African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos. Part of the reason for the high rate of AIDS cases in these populations is the result of injection drug use. African Americans account for half and Hispanic/Latinos for 29 percent of persons with AIDS whose disease is linked to injection drug use.
AIDS is now the fourth leading cause of death among women of childbearing age in the United States. Most women with the disease were infected through sexual contact, although many also are drug users.
Prevention Among Drug Abusers
Because there is no reliable cure or vaccine for HIV infection, now or probably in the near future, the hope to slow the spread of HIV infection is through education and behavior change strategies. Among injecting drug abusers, the most effective way to avoid infection is to stop injecting drugs and avoid sexual contact with individuals who may be HIV-infected. Former drug abusers in drug abuse treatment consistently have been found to have lower HIV infection rates than those "on the streets." Methadone maintenance therapy has been shown to be an effective therapy for opiate addicts and has decreased HIV transmission among compliant patients.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) continues to conduct research on innovative
treatment of drug abuse. In 1987 NIDA implemented AIDS outreach projects to go out to drug
abusers currently not in treatment to inform them about AIDS, and encourage them to change
their HIV risk behaviors. These programs have reached tens of thousands of drug abusers
and their sexual contacts, and have changed drug abusing behaviors in many individuals.
The use of the HIV serological test, counseling about HIV infection, and partner
notification projects in drug abuse treatment programs have met with limited success so
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Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
Licit and Illicit Drugs
Short History of the Marijuana Laws
The Drug Hang-Up
Congressional Transcripts of the Hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Frequently Asked Questions About Drugs
Basic Facts About the Drug War
Charts and Graphs about Drugs
Information on Alcohol
Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
Drugs and Driving
Children and Drugs
Drug Abuse Treatment Resource List
American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
Marijuana Business News
Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
Response to the Drug Enforcement Agency
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