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Methadone Therapies Found to Reduce HIV Risk

A new study links opiate substitution treatments to a 54% fall in HIV risk among intravenous drug users.

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By McCarton Ackerman

10/09/12

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It has been long documented that the use of injection drugs is a major risk factor for spreading HIV and AIDS, but a new study has confirmed a link between methadone treatments and a reduced risk of HIV transmission in people who inject drugs. An international team of researchers carried out a meta-analysis of several published and unpublished studies from nine countries including the US, Austria and China, which looked predominately at men between the ages of 26-39. Pooling the results, the researchers found opiate substitution therapies such as methadone and buprenopine were linked to a 54% fall in risk of HIV infection among people who inject drugs. "Increases in HIV incidence have been reported among PWID (people who inject drugs) in a number of countries in recent years, where opiate substitution therapies are illegal or severely restricted," says co-author Julie Bruneau, from the CHUM Research Centre (CRCHUM) and the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Montreal. "There is good evidence to suggest that opiate substitution therapies (OST) reduce drug-related mortality, morbidity and some of the injection risk behaviors among PWID. However, to date there has been no quantitative estimate of the effect of OST in relation to HIV transmission." 

The researchers noted that HIV/AIDS account for nearly a fifth of the burden of disease among people who use illicit drugs and that 5 to 10 percent of HIV infections worldwide are contracted via intravenous drug use. Using methadone to combat withdrawal and HIV has long been a controversial subject: billionaire George Soros released a comic book character called "Methadone Man" urging for methadone and buprenorphine maintenance programs, whereas actor-comedian Russell Brand is against the practice, claiming it prolongs drug use. “We might as well let people carry on taking drugs if they’re going to be on methadone," said Brand. "Obviously it’s painful to abstain, but at least it’s hope-based.”

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