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What Women and Girls Should Know About Drug Use and HIV/AIDS

By R. Gil Kerlikowske

March 10, 2011

R. Gil Kerlikowske, ONDCP.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, ONDCP.

Cross-posted from the ONDCP Of Substance Blog.

Even with the unique challenges and stresses women and girls face in today's society, informed and thoughtful decisions can help ensure women and girls are full and unhindered participants in this Nation's race to win the future. Today, on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, it is important to raise awareness among women and girls about the intersection of drug use and HIV/AIDS.

Drug users, particularly those who inject, are among the groups with the highest risk of HIV infection; injection drug use accounts for approximately 14 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S. There is also an increased risk for HIV infection for people who use non-injection drugs, such as methamphetamine or "meth." Stimulant drugs like meth reduce inhibitions, which can lead users to engage in increased and risky sexual activity -- often with multiple partners -- greatly increasing their risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were an estimated 1,106,400 persons living with HIV in the United States at the end of 2006. CDC estimates that 56,300 new HIV infections occurred in the United States in 2006. Each year, between 16-22 million persons in the United States are tested for HIV. However, at the end of 2006, approximately 1 in 5 (21%, or 232,700 persons) did not know they were infected.

One of the Obama Administration's top HIV/AIDS policy priorities is the development and implementation of a National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) designed to reduce HIV incidence, increase access to care, and reduce health disparities. These three goals parallel those of the National Drug Control Strategy which intends to reduce drug use and its consequences nationwide.

Increasing the number of people who know their HIV status is an important consideration in reducing the spread of the virus. Women and girls who use drugs should seek HIV testing as well as drug treatment. HIV testing is available through local health departments and many drug treatment programs. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage women and girls to get tested, as well as thank the dedicated local organizations across the country who are working hard to address this important issue.

Use the online locator to find HIV testing and other services near you and, for more information on HIV testing, visit

R. Gil Kerlikowske is director of National Drug Control Policy.

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