A recent HIV outbreak in Indiana has illustrated the dangers of using opioids such as heroin. The state’s Department of Health has reported that an outbreak of HIV occurred in the southeast part of the state, which researchers found was connected to some users injecting Opana, a prescription drug which is used as a painkiller. Twenty seven people were confirmed to have been infected so far. Below are some reasons why opioid abuse in particular leads to an increased risk of HIV infection.
Opioid Users Prefer to Inject The Drug As Opposed To Snorting It
While some drugs such as cocaine are snorted, and other drugs such as Ecstasy are swallowed, injection is the preferred method of abusing opioids, whether it is legal prescription drugs such as Opana or illegal drugs such as heroin. The reason for this is because injecting the drug directly into the bloodstream provides a much more powerful high.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, opioid abusers tend to congregate in the same buildings and use the drugs together, and will share their needles. If even a single person is HIV infected, sharing the needle with others can transmit the disease. In addition to HIV, those who inject opioids also have an increased risk of catching hepatitis C. The CDC has confirmed that from 2010 to 2012, hepatitis C cases increased in the U.S. by a rate of over 75 percent. This is due to the fact that hepatitis C is a virus that is blood borne, and will spread rapidly among networks of people that inject drugs via syringes.
How The Authorities Are Responding
At this point officials in Indiana and elsewhere are focusing primarily on curtailing the availability of prescription opioids. This includes closing pill mills, establishing guidelines for how doctors should prescribe these medications, and creating programs which monitor prescription drugs. While each of these policies are rational and have shown positive results in some cases, the government has been largely unsuccessful in reducing demand for opioids, and some critics feel that the government actually fuels it.
These critics point out that the FDA approves too many prescription opioids which are just as destructive as heroin in terms of the havoc it causes among those that abuse it. By focusing on drug prevention, greater education, and reducing demand for these substances, it is felt that addiction rates could fall. But the major pharmaceutical companies aren’t fond of this and have tremendous lobbying power in Washington D.C.
There is also reluctance among drug treatment centers in the U.S. to treat opioid addiction with medicine like buprenorphine or methadone. However many experts feel that treatment which is medication assisted can be very helpful. In fact, some believe that drug treatment that does not include usage of medications which have been approved by the FDA for alleviating addiction are indirectly causing increased rates of relapse and then overdose. Using drugs to fight against drug addiction is both rational and wise.