Bringing down the rate of HIV infection in one of the United States’ great public health triumphs of the past quarter-century. Now, thanks to the opioid epidemic, some of those hard-won gains may be reversed.
Opioids, as well as being harmful on their own, also increase the risk of HIV outbreaks, as users sometimes inject the drugs using shared, infected syringes. That drove a clustered outbreak in Scott County, Indiana, where then-Governor Mike Pence declared a public health emergency in 2015 because of a spate of new HIV infections.
Hoping to prevent future outbreaks and to drive the HIV infection rate to zero, public health experts held a Capitol Hill summit Wednesday.
The summit’s organizer, the anti-HIV public health advocate amfAR, is rolling out a new website that assembles a wealth of data on the opioid epidemic and its relationship to HIV and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis C (HCV). This includes Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on the 220 opioid addiction-racked U.S. counties which are most vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks linked to injection drug use.
The vulnerable counties have high rates of poverty and unemployment, limiting their resources for providing services that can prevent or curtail outbreaks of infectious disease driven by injection drug abuse. Such services include syringe exchange programs and opioid agonist therapy with methadone or buprenorphine.
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