Injection drug use accounts for more than one-third of all HIV/AIDS cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-either directly when people share infected needles or indirectly when their drug use increases risky behaviors like unprotected sex.
In October, psychologist Robert E. Booth, PhD, joined two other speakers at a congressional briefing on breaking the cycle of HIV infection caused by drug use. Geoff Mumford, PhD, APA's Director of Science Policy, organized the briefing on behalf of the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
At the briefing, Booth-a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Colorado School of Medicine-discussed Project Safe, his 19-year-old community outreach HIV-prevention program. The program began in the 1980s with the goal of investigating whether providing information and clean needles to intravenous drug users reduced their riskiest behaviors.
"At the time we didn't know much about this group, and there were a lot of myths," Booth said. "People thought that you couldn't find them or keep track of them for follow-up interviews, and that they wouldn't tell the truth."
None of those myths proved true, however, and Booth showed that street interventions could change behavior, at least in the short term. Long-term change, though, required drug treatment, he found. So Booth and his colleagues concluded they should also encourage and help drug users to enter more long-term treatment. Today, Project Safe is an established part of the Denver community doing just that.
Booth was joined by NIDA director Nora Volkow, MD, who gave an overview of the institute's HIV/AIDS research portfolio. She compared drug intervention programs that help prevent the spread of AIDS with the smoking prevention programs used to combat cancer.
"This single intervention has done more for decreasing mortality from cancer than any other intervention," she said. "And it's not because we have a cure for cancer, it's because we have a prevention strategy."
Finally, Patricia Nalls, the founder and executive director of The Women's Collective, discussed how the Washington, D.C., nonprofit helps women with HIV/AIDS.
Many women, she said, face additional challenges when they seek out drug treatment, such as finding care for their children. Drug treatment programs, she said, need to take these challenges into account when trying to reach out to women.
- L. Winerman