Drug epi­demic stalls HIV de­cline in whites who shoot up

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

The long de­cline in HIV in­fec­tions among white peo­ple who in­ject drugs has stalled, an­other grim side ef­fect of the na­tion’s drug abuse epi­demic.

Health of­fi­cials re­leased the news Tues­day, as part of a call for more use of nee­dle ex­change pro­grams. “We re­ally risk stalling or re­vers­ing decades of progress on HIV trans­mis­sion,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

The re­port comes as the na­tion is fac­ing an on­go­ing epi­demic of opi­oid and heroin use that has led to an in­crease in drug over­dose deaths, par­tic­u­larly among white peo­ple. The in­crease in drug abuse is also ham­per­ing ef­forts to slow dis­eases car­ried in the blood that can be spread when in­jec­tion drug users share nee­dles.

The CDC pre­vi­ously re­ported a rise in new hep­ati­tis C in­fec­tions, which is tied largely to in­jec­tion drugs. Most cases of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are trans­mit­ted through sex - only about one in 11 HIV in­fec­tions di­ag­nosed each year are among peo­ple who in­ject drugs. But shar­ing dirty nee­dles can spread HIV much more quickly.

More than 100 in­jec­tion drug users were in­fected with HIV in early 2015 in ru­ral Scott County, In­di­ana. The state’s gover­nor at the time - Mike Pence, now the vice pres­i­dent-elect - de­clared a pub­lic health emer­gency and au­tho­rized a lim­ited need-ex­change pro­gram to prevent the virus from spread­ing fur­ther.

Un­til re­cently, HIV cases in in­jec­tion drug users had been fall­ing for all racial groups. Cases still are fall­ing in blacks and His­pan­ics. But for whites they stopped fall­ing in 2012. In 2014, for the first time, a larger num­ber of white in­ject drug users were di­ag­nosed with HIV than in­jec­tion drug users in any other racial or eth­nic group. Tra­di­tion­ally, far more cases were seen in ur­ban blacks.

At least part of the rea­son is that white in­jec­tion drug users are of­ten younger and more likely to share nee­dles, ac­cord­ing to a 22-city CDC study of peo­ple who in­ject drugs. Nearly half of white in­jec­tion drug users shared nee­dles with other ad­dicts in 2015, com­pared with a third of His­pan­ics and a fifth of blacks. Nee­dle ex­change pro­grams give out clean sy­ringe nee­dles in ex­change for used ones. Med­i­cal ex­perts have found that such pro­grams cut down trans­mis­sion of HIV and do not cause in­creases in drug use.

Congress, though, has gone back and forth on al­low­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to fund the pro­grams. For now, fed­eral funds can be used for some pro­gram costs, but not for the pur­chase of ster­ile nee­dles or sy­ringes. —AP

PINGTANG, China: This pic­ture taken on Septem­ber 24, 2016 shows the Five-hun­dred-me­ter Aper­ture Spher­i­cal Ra­dio Tele­scope (FAST). — AFP

AUSTIN, In­di­ana: In this April 4, 2015 file photo, a sign points to the en­trance of the Com­mu­nity Outreach Cen­ter. — AP

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