HIV Pill Cuts Infections Among IV Drug Users

By McCarton Ackerman 06/13/13

A new study finds that an antiretroviral pill can reduce HIV infections in drug users by 49%.

Previous studies show PrEP also reduces
risk of HIV transmission
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The results of a new study show that a daily antiretroviral pill used to treat HIV infection is also effective at preventing the infection in drug-injecting addicts. The study, which involved 2,400 drug users in Thailand, showed that taking tenofovir pills—a therapy known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP—reduced infections by 49%. Addicts who took the pills regularly were 74% less likely to become infected. Previous studies have shown that this therapy also reduces the risk of HIV transmission from mother to child and in men of all sexual orientations. “This is an exciting day,” says Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of HIV prevention for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “This culminates a decade of PrEP research.” To ensure that the findings were as accurate as possible, study participants were given modest stipends to stay in the trial and were administered their pills under the eye of a nurse. Those who came in only monthly were paid to keep drug-use diaries. Despite the promising findings, Dr. Julio Montaner, a University of British Columbia AIDS researcher who works with a large addict population in Vancouver, expressed concern that the therapy would now compete with limited government health budgets for tactics that are already proven as effective—such as methadone and safe-injection sites. However, Dr. Mermin insists that “we’ve moved beyond competition between prevention and treatment. Even this is not for everybody.” Mitchell Warren, executive director for AVAC, an organization that lobbies for AIDS prevention, says the next step is to embark on studies to determine how to best motivate drug users to take these medications.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.