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Experts Draw Comparisons Between AIDS Crisis And Opioid Epidemic

Kathleen J. Davis
90.5 WESA
A piece of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, on display at the Conference on Friday, November 30, 2018. The quilt is a folk art project that memoralizes people who died of AIDS.

Experts gathered in Pittsburgh Friday said the country could be on the precipice of a new AIDS epidemic.

The intersection of AIDS and the opioid crisis were among the topics discussed by physicians and public health experts at the 30th MidAtlantic AIDS Education and Training Conference. The event coincided with World AIDS Day, which is Saturday.

Cheryl Healton, dean of New York University's College of Global Public Health, said people with HIV and AIDS are now living longer, healthier lives. However, she said the disease should still be considered a public health priority.

"Particularly now with the opioid epidemic, we will fuel, probably, a new HIV epidemic associated with use of heroin in lieu of pills," Healton said. 

She said the people most at risk might already be under-served by the medical and public health communities. One possible solution discussed was to combine methadone treatment with a prescription for PreP – a daily pill for HIV-negative people to protect them from infection if they inject drugs or have sex with people who are HIV-positive.

San Francisco-based physician Ron Goldschmidt said the use of PreP is becoming more common among some members of the LGBT community, and said he'd like to see the same thing happen with injection drug users.

"I think as soon as injection drug users learn that this is another tool we have, and the clinicians caring for them realize that, then it'll pick up a little bit more," Goldschmidt said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 1 in 10 new HIV cases in the U.S. is linked to injection drug use.