HIV AIDS cure, symptoms & treatment: addiction therapy lowers substance abuse among infected patients, study reveals

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Sep 30, 2015 06:03 AM EDT

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 7: Naomi Harris (R) explains an HIV test during a free HIV testing event at by the Whitman-Walker Health February 7, 2012 in Washington, DC. Whitman-Walker Health held the event to observe National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images) (Photo : Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 1.2 million people in the United States have HIV infection, and 12.8 percent of those affected are not aware of it. There is also an estimated 50,000 new HIV infections per year. Additionally, injection drug use comes in as the third most frequently reported risk factor for HIV infection in the U.S. Those who ingest or inhale drugs are also at risk for contracting HIV, as the effects of drugs on their behavior puts them at risk for unsafe sex.

Eurekalert reports that according to a new study, a program by the Boston Medical Center (BMC) that integrates addiction treatment into primary care for patients with or at risk for HIV has proved to decrease patients' substance dependence and encourage them to participate in treatment.

According to Alexander Walley, MD, attending physician in general internal medicine at BMC and the study's lead author, "We know that this patient population often seeks care in emergency rooms where they see physicians who may not know their medical history. As a result, unhealthy drug and alcohol use often goes unaddressed. Our model aims to integrate evidence-based addiction treatment into primary care."

The study, which was published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, analyzed 265 patients in BMC's Facilitated eAccess to Substance Abuse Treatment with Prevention and Treatment for HIV (FAST PATH) program from February 2008 to March 2012, all of which were dependent on drugs or alcohol for at least 12 months, and either had already contracted HIV or was at high-risk for the disease. The high-risk patients were those who used injection drugs within the last month, or those who had high-risk sexual activity with an HIV-infected partner.

The program provided participants with access to addiction counseling sessions, HIV risk reduction and overdose prevention counseling. They were also given prescriptions for buprenorphine, a medication used to combat opioid addiction. After six months, researchers reassessed the patients and found that substance dependence decreased by 49 percent.

Researchers found that the buprenorphine treatment was effective, and that serious depression was linked to persistent substance dependence.

Walley explained, "Given depression's association with adverse health outcomes in this patient population, including mental health treatment in primary care holds potential to improve addiction treatment outcomes."

He added: "Understanding the behaviors of these patients and determining which group is more likely to engage in addiction treatment will help us target, tailor, and improve our efforts moving forward."

The ADAA reports that in 2007, almost 1 in 8 of 95 million hospital visits to the emergency room by adults was attributed to a mental health and/or substance abuse problem.

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