HIV Prevalence Lower Among Black Tar Heroin Users Compared With White Powder Users, Study Says
January 29, 2004
The prevalence of HIV among injection drug users in cities where the use of black tar heroin is common is lower than the prevalence among IDUs in cities where the white powder form of heroin is prevalent, according to a study conducted by University of California-San Francisco researchers and published in a recent issue of the journal Substance Use & Misuse, UCSF Today reports. Researchers compared Drug Enforcement Administration data on the predominant types of heroin used in 20 U.S. cities between 1990 and 1993. White powder heroin is more common in East Coast cities, while black tar heroin is used more often in cities west of the Mississippi River. Researchers then compared that data with estimates of HIV prevalence during the same time frame among injection drug users and gay men in the same cities. Based on ethnographic, clinical, epidemiological and laboratory data, the researchers found several reasons why the risk of HIV transmission is lower among IDUs who use black tar heroin versus the powder form. Black tar heroin -- which is a "dark, gummy, resinous substance" -- must be heated to 165 degrees, which is sufficient to kill HIV, before it is injected, according to UCSF Today. In addition, injecting black tar heroin can cause venous sclerosis, which is a hardening of the veins and can lead to the loss of veins for injection sites. Therefore, black tar heroin users are likely to move quickly from intravenous injection to either subcutaneous or intramuscular injections, which previous studies have demonstrated are less efficient for HIV transmission. Black tar heroin also clogs syringes, leading IDUs to frequently rinse or dispose of their syringes. The rinsing of syringes could reduce the residual amount of blood and HIV left in them after injecting, according to the study.
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This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.