12 myths about HIV/AIDS and people who use drugs

July 20, 2010

In a Comment which forms part of the Series in Lancet, 12 myths about HIV/AIDS are debunked.

The Comment is by Dr Steffanie Strathdee, University of California San Diego, CA, USA, and Professor Chris Beyrer, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA (both paper authors in the Series) and colleagues.

  1. Drug users are non-compliant
  2. Drug users do not respond as well to antiretrovirals as do non-drug-using patients
  3. Drug users are difficult to study and have poor retention rates in cohorts, making prospective research studies with drug users difficult or impossible
  4. Drug users are more concerned about getting high than using injecting equipment safely
  5. Drug users don't have much sex; their HIV risks are largely or entirely from needle sharing
  6. If drug users keep using, it is almost inevitable that they will acquire
  7. Unlike gay men or sex workers, drug users don't have strong communities, so community interventions are unlikely to work
  8. Rates of drug use are higher among minorities in the USA and other industrialised countries
  9. Needle exchanges encourage drug use
  10. Methadone (or buprenorphine) treatment just exchanges one drug for another
  11. People who use stimulants are all heavy, out-of-control users who won't change their risky behaviours
  12. Fear is an effective deterrent for drug use
Each of these myths is rebutted in the Comment. For example, there are studies showing that all-cause mortality in HIV patients who had started antiretroviral drugs six years or more ago was similar in both injecting and non-drug users (myth 2). There is also no evidence to show needle exchanges encourage drug use (myth 9), with an Alaskan study showing no difference in drug use between people using a needle exchange and those buying needles from pharmacies. Stimulant users are not all out of control users incapable of reducing risky behaviours (myth 11), with Muasback and colleagues showing risk reduction is possible in HIV-negative heterosexuals and HIV-positive men who have sex with men, despite both groups using crystal meth.

The authors conclude: "The myths about HIV acquisition and people who use drugs are straightforwardly countered by scientific evidence, but like so many forms of prejudice, they persist despite the evidence. It is past time for these prejudices to change. Providers, decision makers, and all engaged in the global fight against HIV infection have an obligation to examine biases against people who use drugs, learn the facts beyond the myths, and let evidence drive responses."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Scientists find where HIV 'hides' to evade detection by the immune system

October 19, 2017
In a decades-long game of hide and seek, scientists from Sydney's Westmead Institute for Medical Research have confirmed for the very first time the specific immune memory T-cells where infectious HIV 'hides' in the human ...

National roll-out of PrEP HIV prevention drug would be cost-effective

October 18, 2017
Providing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to men who have sex with men who are at high risk of HIV infection (equivalent to less than 5% of men who have sex with men at any point in time) in England would be cost-effective, ...

Regulatory T cells harbor HIV/SIV virus during antiviral drug treatment

October 17, 2017
Scientists at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University have identified an additional part of the HIV reservoir, immune cells that survive and harbor the virus despite long-term treatment with antiviral drugs.

New research opens the door to 'functional cure' for HIV

October 17, 2017
In findings that open the door to a completely different approach to curing HIV infections, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have for the first time shown that a novel compound effectively ...

Researchers create molecule that could 'kick and kill' HIV

October 5, 2017
Current anti-AIDS drugs are highly effective at making HIV undetectable and allowing people with the virus to live longer, healthier lives. The treatments, a class of medications called antiretroviral therapy, also greatly ...

A sixth of new HIV patients in Europe 50 or older: study

September 27, 2017
People aged 50 and older comprise a growing percentage of HIV patients in Europe, accounting for one in six new cases in 2015, researchers said Wednesday.

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.