Thursday, July 14, 2016

Combatting the Dual Epidemic of Substance Use and HIV-Infection

By: Brandon M. Macsata, CEO, ADAP Advocacy Association

Since the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, there has been a significant link between substance use, abuse, and dependence and HIV-infection. Aside from injection drug use ("IDU") -- which can cause direct exposure to the virus -- substance use, abuse, and dependance "can affect people’s overall health and make them more susceptible to HIV infection and, in those already infected with HIV, substance use can hasten disease progression and negatively affect adherence to treatment."[1]

Man resting his head on the table, with an alcoholic drink near his hand
Photo Source: We Do Recover
According to the CDC, some of the populations most vulnerable populations include people who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods, gay, bisexual and transgender men, people with mental illness, and people who have experienced sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. Among some of the most common substances used are alcohol, crack cocaine, heroin, Methamphetamine ("Meth"), and poppers.[2]

Unfortunately, many prevention strategies -- otherwise known has Harm Reduction -- often fall victim to the political kickball because many right wing conservatives view them as condoning drug use. Also, often the scarcity of available funding in public health can push these programs to the back burner. The lack of prevention dollars has long plagued the fight against the AIDS epidemic, and it is one that continues today (though some progress has been achieved over the last decade in this area).

To that end, earlier this month the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) released a Fact Sheet on ADAP Formulary Coverage of Substance Use Treatment. The fact sheet demonstrates how AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) cover substance use treatment medications, related client services, as well as drug-specific information for medications.[3]

It includes the following sections:

  • Substance Use Treatment Needs among PLWH
  • Use of Ryan White Part B and ADAP Funds to Expand Access to Substance Use Treatment
  • Substance Use Treatment Medications: Drug-Specific Information
NASTAD summarized the important role played by ADAPs: "When used in combination with behavioral therapy, substance use treatment medications allow individuals to manage addiction or dependency by reducing their risk for overdose, cravings, and/or symptoms of withdrawal.  For PLWH who use substances, these treatments bolster multiple “bars” within the HIV care continuum, including adherence to ARV treatment and viral load suppression."[4] 

There is no one-size-fits-all to the prevention and treatment of substance use, abuse, and dependence. One thing is certain though, there isn't enough being done in this area. Resources and tools -- such as the one made available by NASTAD -- are important to community leaders trying to tackle the dual epidemic of substance use and HIV-infection.


[1] U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), "HIV and Substance Use in the Unite," March 2013; available online at
[2] U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), "HIV and Substance Use in the Unite," March 2013; available online at
[3] National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), "ADAP Formulary Coverage of Substance Use Treatment," July 5, 2016; available online at
[4] Bowes, Amanda, National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), "AIDS DRUG ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS’ (ADAPS) SUPPORT OF SUBSTANCE USE TREATMENT FOR THE CLIENTS THEY SERVE," July 5, 2016; available online at

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