When you attend drug treatment, you might hear more about HIV – the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus. The HIV virus kills the cells in your body that help fight off infection or disease. Once an individual has HIV, he or she is likely to develop the disease AIDS – Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome.
AIDS develops when the HIV virus destroys all the body’s defenses; and when the defenses fail to work, it’s easy to get sick, acquire infections, and die from those infections.
Although getting the virus became a big scare in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it has gone under the radar for the general public. However, for millions of people across the world, getting infected with the HIV virus is still a large danger, including those who use drugs through injection.
More than 1.1 million people are living with the HIV virus in the United States, and about every 9.5 minutes someone in the United States is infected with HIV. It’s important to know that in the United States the most common ways to transmit the virus is through unprotected sexual intercourse and through sharing needles.
There are about 1 in 5 people who don’t know that they are infected with the virus and who are potentially spreading it to others.
Injecting heroin or another drug that is ingested intravenously is a way to transmit the virus, which is why some drug treatment programs are discussing the dangers of illicit drug use. Although those who are in drug treatment may never use drugs again, some participants might relapse, get infected, and share the virus through unprotected sex and/or through sharing needles.
Ventura County Stats
In Ventura County, there are about 1500 people who are known to be living with the HIV virus, while approximately 2500-3000 people are estimated to have the virus. Clearly, there are many individuals who have either not gotten themselves tested, do not wish to get treatment, or wish to avoid the truth that they have the virus.
HIV can be transmitted through body fluids, and the virus can usually not survive when not in a fluid. The fluids that can transmit the virus include blood (which is why sharing needles is so dangerous), semen and vaginal fluid (why unprotected sex is dangerous), breast milk (a mother can pass HIV to her child via breast milk), and other body fluids which contain blood.
You can see why a discussion of HIV and AIDS might be necessary in drug treatment. At the very least, it should be mentioned that many communities have programs that aim to prevent the spreading of AIDs.
For instance, Ventura County has three programs that have been incredibly useful in preventing the spread of the HIV virus. The first is a syringe replacement program. Of course, most health professionals hope that men and women who ingest drugs intravenously would stop their drug use all together.
However, in order to reduce harm among those who are using drugs, many communities, including Ventura County, aim to prevent the spread of HIV. Another program of Ventura County is anonymous testing. The South Oxnard Public Health Office offers free HIV testing on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month. This too has been successful in reducing harm and preventing the spread of the virus.
Although there are many drug treatment programs who may not go into depth about ways to protect yourself against the virus, it’s important to mention in some drug treatment programs, particularly those that are treating heroin, cocaine, and other illicit drugs that require the use of needles.
- Don’t share needles and syringes used to inject drugs, vitamins, steroids, or for tattooing or body piercing.
- Only have protected sex. If you decide to have sex, have sex only with one partner that you know is having sex only with you. Furthermore, use a latex condom every time you have sex. During sex, there are many bodily fluids being exchanged, and the virus can easily spread between partners.
- Don’t share razors or toothbrushes because of the possibility of contact with blood.
- Get tested for HIV, especially if you are pregnant to protect the health of the child.
Because substance use puts one at risk for acquiring HIV, drug treatment may include a discussion of the virus and acquiring AIDS.
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