Since the beginning, drug abuse and addiction are closely linked to HIV/AIDS due to the fact that substance abusers are at an increased risk of contracting and transmitting the deadly virus. Although intravenous administration of drugs increases the risk of contracting HIV, it can also be easily spread through drinking, smoking, ingesting or inhaling drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc.
In addition to increasing the risk of HIV transmission, drugs can change the way the brain works because its prolonged use can alter the brain functions in fundamental and long-lasting ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), intravenous use of drugs is a major risk factor for HIV in the United States. A new study found that on integrating addiction treatment with primary care for patients with or at risk for HIV, the patients’ dependence on substance reduced.
To lower patients’ substance dependence and facilitate their engagement in the treatment plan, the Boston Medical Center (BMC) developed a program that integrates addiction treatment into primary care for patients at the risk of developing HIV. The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment in 2015.
The researchers observed 265 participants who were drug dependent for at least one year and were at a high risk of contracting HIV during the period from February 1, 2008 to March 31, 2012. The high-risk participants were found to be engaged in intravenous use of drugs within the previous 30 days or had a high risk of developing the disease through their HIV-infected partners.
As part of the treatment plan, each participant was offered a multidisciplinary assessment by a primary care physician, with each session including assessments of factors including substance abuse and depression. During the course of the program, the participants were provided access to counselling sessions related to addiction, HIV risk reduction and overdose prevention. A few patients were also given a prescription for buprenorphine to help fight opioid addiction.
Surprisingly, at the end of six months, the researchers found that the substance dependence dropped to 49 percent in the participants, with 64 percent making two visits in the first 14 days and two more visits in the next 30 days. Interestingly enough, the medication – buprenorphine – was identified as the driving force behind patients who took up the treatment to ward off addiction, while those who were hooked on substance were found to suffer severe bouts of depression.
“We know that this patient population often seeks care in emergency rooms where they see physicians who may not know their medical history,” said Alexander Walley, M.D., attending physician in general internal medicine at BMC and the lead author of the study. “As a result, unhealthy drug and alcohol use often goes unaddressed. Our model aims to integrate evidence-based addiction treatment into primary care,” he said.
“Given depression’s association with adverse health outcomes in this patient population, including mental health treatment in primary care holds potential to improve addiction treatment outcomes,” Walley said. “Understanding the behaviors of these patients and determining which group is more likely to engage in addiction treatment will help us target, tailor, and improve our efforts moving forward.”
Making help available
It is not easy to fight the vicious cycle of addiction, recovery and relapse. If you or your loved one is battling addiction, you may call any detox helpline in your area.