Study Shows Crystal Meth Abuse Can Accelerate HIV/AIDS Transmission

By John Lavitt 03/31/14

Researchers found that HIV-positive men who were also meth abusers had higher transmission rates and a worse progression of the disease than non-users.


The National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project publicized the results of a study from the University of California, San Diego that revealed a direct connection between methamphetamine, and T-cell activation and proliferation in HIV-positive men. With a control group of non-meth users, the study participants who did abuse the drug in the study showed a higher risk of cognitive impairment and a faster progression to full blown AIDS.

The UCSD team proposed that the results could explain why meth users have increased both HIV transmission rates and worse progression of the disease once contracted. The impact of crystal meth use on T-cell activation and proliferation led the researchers to believe that it "could explain meth-related co-morbidities" in HIV-positive men who use the drug.

The San Diego-based study of 50 men also produced evidence that meth users may have a deeper HIV DNA reservoir than nonusers. The UCSD research team speculated that these initial findings of a deeper proviral DNA reservoir and more HIV RNA in seminal plasma among meth users, "could explain increased HIV transmission and worse HIV disease progression" in meth users.

Despite the conclusive evidence provided by the study, the reasons for the overall findings remain unclear. A problem is that high risk behaviors associated with the use of crystal meth could explain worse health outcomes in methamphetamine abusers. According to the report, the 50 men in the study averaged 46 years in age and had taken antiretrovirals for an average of four years.

Sixteen men reported using crystal meth, while 20 used marijuana, 13 others took club drugs, 12 drank alcohol, and 11 used cocaine. The study concluded, however, that the use of the other drugs did not contribute to the negative findings.

Given the dangers and illegality, crystal meth use should be avoided for good reasons beyond the results of the study. Still, given the prevalence of methamphetamine use in the gay community, there is hope that the results will provide a further reason for HIV-positive men to make their health concerns more of a priority.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.