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New Yorker's Rapid HIV Seen as Danger Sign

Fast-Moving, Drug-Resistant AIDS Virus Points to Prevention Failure

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Del Rio notes that the New York patient, a gay man, frequently used methamphetamine, a drug known to lower sexual inhibitions and increase the likelihood a person will have sex without a condom.

"The intersection of the methamphetamine epidemic and the HIV epidemic is deadly," he says. "We need to not forget that. This is something being fueled by methamphetamine abuse."

Daar says it's not just a New York phenomenon. Methamphetamine abuse -- "crystal meth" in drug parlance -- is a coast-to-coast problem.

"Ninety percent of our newly infected people report crystal meth use," he says. "There is a huge epidemic of crystal meth use. And probably more so in the gay white male community than others. It is highly addictive and prevents people from using good judgment. It is a major driving force behind the epidemic. Unfortunately, we [in AIDS prevention] are not very good at dealing with substance abuse in the communities we serve."

A coalition of 41 AIDS organizations -- including the National Association of People with AIDS, Gay Men's Health Crisis, and the Treatment Action Group -- warns against stigmatizing gay men as "crazed drug addicts carelessly or wantonly spreading a killer bug."

The groups' joint statement points to several troubling trends:

  • Cuts in federal funding for AIDS prevention programs
  • Restrictions on the content of information distributed by federally funded prevention programs which "make honest discussions of sex and drugs increasingly difficult."
  • Political attacks on "harm reduction" programs that try to reduce the dangers of drug use.
  • Punitive audits of federally funded programs specifically focused on gay, lesbian, and transgendered people and on women's reproductive health.

"Counseling to reduce risk of infection or address issues of drug use must be made in the context of confronting the underlying issues that fueled HIV transmission," the statement says.

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