In Observance of World AIDS Day

Last year 18, 303 Americans were diagnosed with the AIDS virus infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency also reports that there were 12,333 deaths (due to any cause) of people with diagnosed HIV infection ever classified as AIDS, and 6,721 deaths were attributed directly to HIV in 2014. At the end of 2013, the most recent year for which such data are available, an estimated 1,242,000 adults and adolescents were living with HIV in the United States. As nations all over the world endeavor to recognize World AIDS Day, it is clear HIV and AIDS continue to be pervasive national and global public health threats, despite the considerable clinical progress made here in the United States and in other countries.

One population that has experienced the devastation of the HIV/AIDS viruses most directly is intravenous drug users. Drug abuse and addiction have been inextricably linked with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. The link has to do with heightened risk—both of contracting and transmitting HIV and of worsening its consequences. A variety of biological and lifestyle factors have contributed to the strengthening of the association between AIDS and drug use, specifically heroin and other substances taken by needle. Drug abuse and addiction can also worsen HIV symptoms, causing greater neuronal injury and cognitive impairment and a variety of other health issues.

Some factors include the extremely high-risk behavior associated with intravenous use and drug abuse in general: dirty needle-exchange, dangerous sexual activity in exchange for drugs (also known as transactional sex), etc. Injection drug use is responsible for approximately 10 percent of HIV diagnoses in the US. Other drugs that are associated with heightened contraction of HIV/AIDs include methamphetamine, crack and even alcohol. In addition to the thousands of Americans who die and the over one million currently living with this disease in America, millions more around the world continue to die from lack of access to quality treatment and medication.

While diagnoses across the board are on the decline, we musn’t become complacent or take AIDS for granted as a “solved problem.” To do so risks the diversion of resources from important HIV/AIDS research that has been so instrumental in helping us make the strides that we have. We need only look in our own backyard to realize that HIV/AIDS is still alive and well in this country, and to recognize impact of cutting funds for treatment research. Florida now leads the United States in new HIV cases amidst four years of personnel cuts in the Department of Health. If it can happen here, it really can happen anywhere.