October 20, 2009

Canadian Study Links Crack And HIV

The daily smoking of crack cocaine increases the risk of spreading HIV, according to a Canadian study published on Monday.

The researchers did a nine-year study which analyzed the connection between drug use and HIV in Vancouver's extremely poor Downtown Eastside, one of Canada's most notoriously drug infested neighborhoods. They said the findings show the need to implement new efforts to help drug addicts, like opening "safe inhalation rooms."

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, also showed that the number of addicts who daily smoke crack cocaine in the neighborhood has consistently increased.

This winter, the neighborhood's issues with drugs, poverty and homelessness is likely to be highlighted when Vancouver hosts the Winter Olympics, reported Reuters.

According to the researchers, when the study began in 1996 there was no apparent evidence that smoking crack cocaine daily increased the risk of contracting HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS.

However, indications of risk association began developing in the middle of the study and more evidence appeared over time, along with growth in the number of study participants who confessed to smoking crack, a highly addictive form of cocaine.

The researchers said that study participants claiming to smoke crack daily were four times more likely to become infected with HIV than those who smoked it less often or not at all.

They suspect that the virus may be spread by addicts with mouth wounds sharing smoking pipes with HIV-infected users, but this was not proven. They also said that it could be caused by unprotected sex while on drug binges.

The impoverished neighborhood has the highest rate of HIV infection and AIDS in all of Canada. When the project came to an end, almost 40 percent of the study's participants were daily smoking crack.

The connection between the spread of HIV and injection drug use was already well known, but researcher Evan Wood of the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS admitted that he was a bit surprised that smoking crack also posed a risk.

In an interview, Wood said the findings serve as evidence that Canada needs to look into starting programs to treat crack smoking as a health issue and not as a mere law enforcement problem.

"The current approach simply isn't working," he said.

The research lists suggested treatment ideas, such as the establishment of facilities where drug users could smoke under medically supervised conditions with access to information that could help them overcome their addictions.

Vancouver already has North America's only sanctioned facility for injection drug-users, which is a project backed by local and provincial officials. However, the federal Conservative government is currently working to shut it down.

An appeals court is soon expected to give a verdict on Ottawa's challenge of a lower court decision requiring it to let the In-site supervised injection facility remain open.


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