Addressing the Meth, HIV, and Hepatitis Connection
August 20, 2005—Methamphetamine users are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than those who do not use the drug, according to a recent government-sponsored study of gay men in San Francisco. The study underscored the drug’s potential to undermine years of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment advances and pointed to the need for a national dialogue on methamphetamine’s link to sexually transmitted disease.
In response to the problem, health-care providers, treatment advocates, public health workers, and law enforcement officers came together in Salt Lake City, August 19-20, for the “First National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis: Science and Response in 2005.” Presented by the Harm Reduction Project and the Harm Reduction Coalition, the conference enabled participants to share information and helped them develop effective solutions and services to minimize the impact of methamphetamine addiction.
amfAR, a primary sponsor of the conference, provided continuing medical education credits to physicians in attendance. The goal was to help doctors educate patients about the potential medical consequences of methamphetamine use, and to teach them to provide appropriate treatment and counseling options.
Originally confined to rural areas in the West, use of methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is now widespread. The drug poses a major obstacle for those working in the areas of HIV prevention and treatment, lowering inhibitions, impairing judgment, and making people more likely to engage in the kinds of risky sexual behavior that can lead to HIV transmission. Methamphetamine users are also more susceptible to contracting hepatitis B and C, which can be transmitted through unprotected sex or through shared syringes.
“I hope one point people went home with is that even if they can’t completely prevent people from taking methamphetamine, they can prevent them from getting HIV or hepatitis,” said Dr. Sharon Stancliff, medical director of the Harm Reduction Coalition of New York. “We need to stop blaming people for their addiction and start figuring out solutions so they don’t hurt themselves or others.”