By Adrian Ortega
SAN ANTONIO – For years, Bexar County has been fighting to reduce the rates of infection of HIV among residents.
But there is a wrinkle in those efforts that has not been helping: opioid addiction.
Opioid abuse and addiction takes the lives of thousands of people each year in the U.S. For many, it starts with prescription pain killers. Researchers at the Department of Health and Human Services have found that nearly two in five American adults used narcotic pain drugs in the past year.
Those who crush pills to inject themselves with the drug not only face the possibility of overdose, there is also the concern of getting or passing on HIV
“Even if you stop using the drug, the vulnerability to go back to using stays with you for a long, long time. If not for the rest of your life,” Dr. Petros Levounis said.
Levounis came to San Antonio from Rutgers University and showed how the battle against opioids and HIV intersect.
“There is quite a lot of data that supports the idea that patients who suffer from addiction, specifically from an opioid addiction have poorer outcomes in their HIV course,” Levounis said. “They’re less adherent to treatment programs. And they end up having higher death rates and worse quality of life.”
READ MORE: New task force to tackle local opioid crisis
HIV medication also came up as a topic for conversation. Levounis said it doesn’t get the person high, but it does have a value on the black market. Though uncommon, someone without HIV could buy the life-saving medication to help fuel their own addiction.
“When you buy an HIV medication on the street, it’s most likely you slow down the liver and therefore have whatever other drugs you’re using, last you longer,” he said. “It is not quite as common, but it does happen.”
This is just one aspect of the opioid crisis. KSAT will be highlighting the opioid issue and raising awareness about addiction. We will be airing a special one-hour show on the crisis Sept. 6.
Addiction is an insidious and lethal disease. The “best” results of long-term sobriety are commonly cited as AA with 1:8 long-term sobriety; 12.5% success rate! This is dismal at best. On the other hand, studies of treatment of physicians who have their medical licenses held “hostage” by medical boards have long-term sobriety of >90%. Treating HIV with inadequate attention to the addiction is bound to fail. What is adequate addiction therapy? Currently, it’s something greater than what we’re currently doing (which clearly is inadequate). Perhaps mandatory inpatient treatment for at least 90 days and all government benefits are contingent upon a urine screen (with follow-up confirmation) that is free of any evidence of illicit or other ill-advised substances. Increased consequences lead to increased rates of long-term sobriety.