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International News

Getting High on HIV Drugs in South Africa

December 11, 2008

Health authorities in South Africa are warning about a troubling phenomenon that is becoming more evident: Some teenagers are smoking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to get high.

"They take a pill and grind it, until it is a powder. Some also mix it with painkillers and others mix it with marijuana," said Tooli Nhlapo, a documentary film maker. "When I asked then why they like doing it, they said it helps them relax and forget about their problems." The youths told Nhlapo they buy the ARVs from patients or health care workers, or they steal them.

The practice is fraught with peril for AIDS patients and youths alike. It diverts the drugs from those who need them, leading to improper dosing. Nhlapo said that in the course of her research she encountered many HIV patients who had difficulty getting the drugs they had been prescribed. "Not taking the optimum dose as recommended will not suppress the virus, and the CD4 count will be destroyed massively and that's want we are trying to prevent by giving [ARVs]," said Dr. Kas Kasongo, an expert on the drugs.

As for the youths, Kasongo continued, "People who are healthy, that are taking this medication are exposing themselves to potential side effects of these drugs." "Abusing a particular drug, whichever it is, is a concern because it can give rise to resistance to drugs within that same group."

Government, social workers and educational authorities must work cooperatively to combat the problem, Kasongo said.

Back to other news for December 2008

Adapted from:
12.10.2008; Alka Marwaha

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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