HIV drug can also protect injection drug users (Update)

June 12, 2013 by Mike Stobbe
Dr. Lisa Sterman holds up a Truvada pill at her office in San Francisco on Thursday, May 10, 2012. Sterman prescribes Truvada off-label for about a dozen patients at high risk for developing AIDS. On Wednesday, June 12, 2013, U.S. health officials said the drug is an option for preventing infection in people who inject illegal drugs. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Doctors should consider giving a daily AIDS drug to another high risk group to help prevent infections—people who shoot heroin, methamphetamines or other injection drugs, U.S. health officials said Wednesday.

A similar recommendation is already in place for gay men and heterosexual couples at high risk of catching HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The latest advice was triggered by the results of a study done in Thailand that showed the AIDS drug tenofovir protected many drug users. Volunteers who took the daily pill were about 50 percent less likely to become infected than those given a dummy pill.

"This study completes the story" telling how HIV drugs can protect people at highest risk of infection, said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of AIDS prevention for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The research by the CDC and the Thailand government was published online Wednesday by the journal Lancet.

Based on the findings, the CDC recommended that doctors consider prescribing tenofovir to those who inject drugs. It blocks the virus from making copies and spreading through the body. In the U.S., tenofovir is included in an AIDS drug called Truvada.

HIV infections in drug users is a bigger problem worldwide, where they account for about 1 in 10 new cases each year and the vast majority of infections in some places in Eastern Europe and central Asia. In the U.S., they represent about 1 in 13 new cases. People who inject drugs can spread the AIDS virus to others through sharing tainted needles or sex.

How many people already take the drug in the U.S. to protect against infection isn't known; the CDC only began recommending it for that purpose the last two years. And health officials acknowledge it's not clear how many of the nation's 1 million injection drug users would have the money or insurance to pay for it.

The only approved version in the U.S. is Truvada, made by Gilead Sciences Inc. It costs more than $14,000 a year. In Thailand, the tenofovir used in the study costs about $360.

Truvada came on the market in 2004 to treat people who already have the AIDS virus. Since then, six studies have been done in different high risk groups to see if it could prevent infections. Two failed but health officials believe those results were skewed because many participants did not take the drugs faithfully.

The latest study was the first in people who inject drugs. It looked at about 2,400 uninfected patients at 17 drug treatment clinics in Bangkok, Thailand's capital and largest city. Half the participants received daily tenofovir and half got a dummy pill; all got condoms and counseling to discourage the spread of HIV.

Over the next four years, risky behaviors—like sharing needles and having multiple sex partners—fell at equal rates in both groups. There were 17 HIV infections in the tenofovir group compared to 33 in the group given dummy pills. That meant the treated group's risk was reduced by 49 percent.

"It does not completely eliminate your risk of HIV," said Jennifer Kates, director of global health and HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research and policy organization in Washington, D.C.

But she voiced relief about the findings, saying: "We were waiting for the results of this trial."

International health officials celebrated the findings as an important advance.

"Piece by piece, scientific advances are paving the way to the end of the AIDS epidemic," Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, said in a statement.

Explore further: High-risk heterosexuals should take HIV prevention pill, too

More information: Paper www.thelancet.com/journals/lan … (13)61127-7/abstract

Related Stories

High-risk heterosexuals should take HIV prevention pill, too

August 10, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Doctors should consider prescribing the HIV prevention pill Truvada to their heterosexual patients who are at high risk for the virus, not just high-risk gay and bisexual men, experts from the U.S. Centers ...

CDC: HIV spread high in young gay males

November 27, 2012
(AP)—Health officials say 1 in 5 new HIV infections occur in a tiny segment of the population—young men who are gay or bisexual.

Living on the margins drives HIV epidemic in Europe and central Asia, new report says

June 6, 2013
Social and structural factors – such as poverty, marginalisation and stigma – and not just individual behaviours are shaping the HIV epidemic in Europe and central Asia. This is the main conclusion of a new report released ...

Sexual agreements among gay couples show promise for HIV prevention

March 26, 2013
The majority of gay men in relationships say they establish a "sexual agreement" with their partner, primarily to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, according to a University of Michigan study.

UNAIDS welcomes US approval of drug to stop HIV

July 17, 2012
The UN agency tasked with fighting AIDS on Tuesday welcomed the decision by the United States to allow the use of an HIV prevention pill for the first time.

Recommended for you

Findings link aldosterone with alcohol use disorder

July 18, 2017
A new study led by scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates that aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, may contribute ...

Depression among young teens linked to cannabis use at 18

July 17, 2017
A study looking at the cumulative effects of depression in youth, found that young people with chronic or severe forms of depression were at elevated risk for developing a problem with cannabis in later adolescence.

Why does prenatal alcohol exposure increase the likelihood of addiction?

July 7, 2017
One of the many negative consequences when fetuses are exposed to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk for drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions are ...

Researchers say U.S. policies on drugs and addiction could use a dose of neuroscience

June 23, 2017
Tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdoses every year – around 50,000 in 2015 – and the number has been steadily climbing for at least the last decade and a half, according to the National Institute on Drug ...

Study provides further support for genetic factors underlying addictions

June 13, 2017
Impairment of a particular gene raises increases susceptibility to opioid addiction liability as well as vulnerability to binge eating according to a new study.

From pill to needle: Prescription opioid epidemic may be increasing drug injection

May 8, 2017
The prescription opioid epidemic is shrinking the time it used to take drug users to progress to drug injection, a new Keck School of Medicine of USC-led study suggests.

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.