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HIV, IV Drug Users, and Hepatitis C

Fall/Winter 2000

I am dedicating this article to anyone who has lived the miserable, sad, degrading, useless life of a heroin addict. This is the life I lived for so many waisted years only to end up with this f-ing disease that no one has a cure for. Isn't that ironic?

I suppose I could say I was surprised when they told me I tested HIV positive, but I would be lying. It was practically inevitable, considering my lifestyle. This article is also for anyone that has any desire to quit using drugs or anyone who has ever tried to quit, but just couldn't do it.

Here are a few reasons that may or may not persuade you to try again.

  • HIV enters the brain shortly after a person is infected with HIV. Individuals with HIV may experience symptoms such as reduced alertness or a slower thinking capacity.

  • We all know what drugs do to our brain.

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  • Information from studies, journals, and conferences detail the prevalence of HCV (Hepatitis C) in HIV+ individuals with various backgrounds.

  • Injection drug use is a major risk factor for HCV infection.

  • If you are HIV+, your HCV infection gets worse faster than if you have HCV alone and could be a bigger more immediate problem.

  • When HCV damages the liver it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to absorb the HIV medicine, which in turn gives your HIV viral load the opportunity to go up.

  • People get worse side effects from the HIV meds when they are co-infected with HCV.

  • A person with both HCV and HIV may be affected even more with regards to brain function.

  • Fatigue is also associated with the affect of HCV on the brain.

  • HIV+ drug users are more likely to carry hepatitis and stay infectious longer.

  • If you should happen to be infected with HCV you should get vaccinated immediately because you definitely don't want to get Hepatitis A or B.

  • The end point for all of these is the development of cirrhosis, liver cancer, and . . . death.

  • We are also more susceptible to bacterial infections such as TB and endocarditis.

For us to continue the compulsive, repeated use of our drug of choice in spite of all these harmful consequences is not simply heading for self-destruction (which doesn't seem to phase us for reasons unknown) as we were before we became infected. In our case the consequences are extremely more detrimental to our health.

One more fact that I feel it is necessary to toss out there is this: If you are one of those addicts who finds it necessary to have a drink while you're hustling for that next fix . . . let me share something else with you, my friends. HIV, HCV, and alcohol . .&nbsp. not a good combination.

We must fully recognize that each and every time we stick that needle in our arm, we become one fix closer to almost certain demise. Methadone maintenance is always an option. The lesser of two evils some say. At least that would be a step in the right direction. As long as the methadone is synergistic with whatever medications you may be on.

  • Methadone users are significantly more likely to have a negative test for HCV.

  • Researchers from University of Missouri have determined that methadone users with anti-bodies to HCV are less likely to have chronic hepatitis than non-methadone users.

Better yet, you can stop altogether, but that's easier said than done. I should know. But then nothing worthwhile ever comes easy does it? You can always keep using and worry about all of the above and the regular, routine occupational hazards of dope fiend life.

By the grace of God I'm still here. I believe that He kept me safe from harm so that I can help save you. I tested positive in November '92 and it took me 6 years to fully comprehend the seriousness of my situation if I continued to use. As much as I loved shooting heroin, I love life that much more so I had to make a choice. Life or death, simple as that. Which one will you choose?

Source: The medical information in this article was taken from Community Prescription Services' hand book on HIV and Hepatitis C Co-infection titled "Double Jeopardy."

Note to Readers and Providers: Please bear in mind that we (heroin addicts) are people with overall neglected health due to extensive and/or long-term drug usage. We may need extra help and attention to our overall health from our health care providers.

Note to Readers: If you are suffering from drug addiction and HIV, and you want some help, please feel free to give me a call on the Women Alive HotLine: 1.800.554.4876. I've been there and I know it's a long hard road to recovery but, it's so worth it. Life really is much more tolerable. I count my blessings each and every day.




  
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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.
 
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Talk to a Physician About HIV/Hepatitis Coinfection in Our "Ask the Experts" Forums

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