Crack and cocaine use a significant HIV risk factor for teens

March 31, 2010, Lifespan

Teens with a history of crack or cocaine use are significantly more likely to engage in unprotected sex than youth who have never used these drugs, putting themselves at increased risk for HIV, according to a study in the April issue of the Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse.

Researchers from the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center report that teens in psychiatric care who used crack and/or cocaine at least once were six times more likely to use condoms inconsistently, which was defined as "sometimes," "never" or "rarely." The findings suggest that crack cocaine appears to have more of an influence on risky teen behaviors than other factors, like alcohol and marijuana use, which are more routinely incorporated into adolescent prevention interventions.

The study is one of the first to look at the link between crack and and HIV risk behaviors in adolescents. Previous research has demonstrated this association in adults.

" is the most common way that HIV is transmitted among teens, so if we can develop a clearer picture of why some kids engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, we will be better prepared to educate them about ," says lead author Marina Tolou-Shams, PhD, of the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center. "Our findings suggest that future HIV prevention interventions should include content specific to crack and cocaine use, just as they do with drugs that are more commonly used by teens, like alcohol and marijuana."

Overall, nearly 280 teens between the ages of 13 and 18 from therapeutic psychiatric day programs took part in the study. Participants exhibited a range of psychiatric diagnoses, including mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and disruptive behavior disorders. More than half of all adolescents were male, and more than three-quarters were Caucasian. Approximately 13 percent of teens in the study reported trying crack or cocaine at least once.

After controlling for known adolescent HIV risk factors, such as gender, race, age and psychiatric status, researchers found that only 47 percent of teens with a history of crack and/or cocaine use said they used condoms "always or almost always." In addition, 15 percent of these adolescents have a history of sexually transmitted diseases (STD), nearly three-quarters reported using alcohol at least once and more than half indicated prior marijuana use.

In comparison, 71 percent of teens who never used crack or cocaine reported using condoms consistently.

Tolou-Shams says it was important to look at the association between crack and cocaine use and HIV risk behavior in adolescents with psychiatric disorders, since previous research has shown that teens in mental health treatment have high rates of risky and are more likely to engage in substance use.

"Our study clearly shows that youth in psychiatric treatment are using other drugs - and not just alcohol or marijuana - at high rates and that a history of drug use should alert clinicians to a wide variety of possible behavioral risks in their young patients," she adds.

The authors recommend that all clinicians who treat adolescents - including pediatricians, social workers and psychologists - routinely discuss their patients' mental health history, lifetime use of all substances and sexual activity, as well as provide appropriate interventions when necessary in order to reduce their HIV risk.

The research is supported by grants from the National Institute of and the Lifespan/Tufts/Brown Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).

Tolou-Shams is also an assistant professor of psychiatry at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Study co-authors include Larry K. Brown, MD, and Nicholas Tarantino, BS, both from the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center and Alpert Medical School, and Sarah W. Feldstein Ewing, PhD, at the University of New Mexico.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

War in Ukraine has escalated HIV spread in the country: study

January 15, 2018
Conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of HIV outbreaks throughout the country as displaced HIV-infected people move from war-affected regions to areas with higher risk of transmission, according to analysis by scientists.

Researchers offer new model for uncovering true HIV mortality rates in Zambia

January 12, 2018
A new study that seeks to better ascertain HIV mortality rates in Zambia could provide a model for improved national and regional surveillance approaches, and ultimately, more effective HIV treatment strategies.

New drug capsule may allow weekly HIV treatment

January 9, 2018
Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital have developed a capsule that can deliver a week's worth of HIV drugs in a single dose. This advance could make it much easier for patients to adhere to the strict schedule ...

New long-acting, less-toxic HIV drug suppresses virus in humanized mice

January 8, 2018
A team of Yale researchers tested a new chemical compound that suppresses HIV, protects immune cells, and remains effective for weeks with a single dose. In animal experiments, the compound proved to be a promising new candidate ...

Usage remains low for pill that can prevent HIV infection

January 8, 2018
From gritty neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to clinics in Kenya and Brazil, health workers are trying to popularize a pill that has proven highly effective in preventing HIV but which—in their view—remains woefully ...

Researchers find clues to AIDS resistance in sooty mangabey genome

January 3, 2018
Peaceful co-existence, rather than war: that's how sooty mangabeys, a monkey species found in West Africa, handle infection by SIV, a relative of HIV, and avoid developing AIDS-like disease.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.