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AIDS and Drugs: Twin Epidemics

2002

With half of all HIV infections attributed directly or indirectly to substance abuse, getting dirty needles off our streets, getting people into substance abuse treatment and making the battle against illegal drug use more effective must be a top national prevention priority.

The twin epidemics of drug abuse and AIDS are hitting communities of color particularly hard. Where people of color once made up 30% of all AIDS cases, they make up 57% of all cases today, with injecting drug use a leading cause of infection.

America's battle against illegal drugs has largely been about interdicting drugs and vilifying drug users. The best way to stop drug abuse and to interdict the flow of illegal narcotics is to reduce demand by working to bring drug users into treatment that ends addiction.

Substance abuse treatment is woefully underfunded in America with waiting lists and inadequate access. It is a national tragedy that people who want to end their addiction are frequently told to stand in line. We need full funding of treatment centers so that those who want to end their addiction have the tools to do so.

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While we continue to fight the battle against illegal drugs, we have to take HIV out of the equation. Needle exchange programs are scientifically proven to reduce HIV infection among injection drug users and prevent the cycle of indirect infections to their loved ones, including their children. They are also a useful way to get people into substance abuse treatment.

Drugs and alcohol cloud judgment and increase the likelihood of unsafe activity.


Talking Points

"If it reduces AIDS and doesn't increase drug abuse, I don't mind. I wouldn't go walk in a parade for it, but it's not really bothering me . . ."

-- White college-educated man, Milwaukee

  • Illegal drugs and alcohol are all direct or indirect accomplices to the AIDS epidemic. We need a strong fight against illegal drug use in this country that helps people break the cycle of addiction. Until we win this battle against drugs, let's take HIV out of the equation.

  • Needle exchange programs are proven to prevent the spread of HIV without increasing drug use. They are also a useful way to get people into substance abuse treatment.

  • People who want to end their addiction are frequently told to stand in line. We need treatment on request for anyone addicted to harmful or illegal substances.

  • Without needle exchange programs, women and children are the first casualties in the fight against drug abuse.

  • Maintaining the current needle exchange ban railroads America's most vulnerable families on a fast track to AIDS.

  • Our failure to get dirty needles off our streets increases the HIV infection rate among those most likely to depend on Medicaid for health care access.

  • Ironically, Medicaid does not provide treatment for HIV infection until a beneficiary develops full-blown AIDS, when treatment is less successful and more expensive.


Organizations That Say Needle Exchange Programs
Stop HIV Without Increasing Drug Use:

  • The National Institutes of Health

  • The Clinton Administration

  • The American Medical Association

  • The American Public Health Association

  • The American Bar Association



  
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This article was provided by AIDS Action Council.
 
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
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