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Recreational Use of HIV Drugs Leading to Pre-Treatment Resistance in South Africa

December 19, 2012

NPR's "Shots" blog examines how "[o]pportunists who market street drugs may be undermining the global struggle against AIDS," writing, "In South Africa, two mainstay HIV drugs have found their way into recreational use." According to the blog, "[p]eople with HIV who smoke so-called whoonga -- an illicit concoction of an AIDS medication and a street drug, like marijuana or heroin -- can develop mutant strains of the virus resistant to the medication," or "people can become infected with a strain of HIV that came from someone who used whoonga."

"'One large study showed 3 to 5 percent of people with HIV were coming in with pre-treatment resistance' to antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV, [said] Dr. David Grelotti ..., a Harvard School of Public Health researcher who co-authored a commentary on the phenomenon in the Lancet Infectious Diseases published Tuesday," the blog notes. "Recreational use of HIV drugs isn't altogether new, though it hasn't had much attention," "Shots" writes, noting, "Some media reports documented illicit use of HIV drugs in South Africa as long ago as 2009." The blog adds, "Aside from the resistance problem, illicit use of HIV drugs poses other dangers," as "recreational use can make legitimate users of these drugs, and the clinics that dispense them, targets of thieves and violent crime" (Knox, 12/18).

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