New York Times (10.16.12)
A new study, published October 4 online by the British journal BMJ, has found that treating drug addicts with methadone significantly reduces the risk that they will get HIV or give it to anyone else. The study combined data from studies done in nine countries, and concluded that making methadone available reduced HIV risk by 54 percent. Many countries, including Russia, have large HIV epidemics among addicts; nonetheless, these countries outlaw methadone and buprenorphine treatment for religious, political, or other reasons.
Methadone alone does not affect the virus. Scientists believe it works because addicts on treatment become better able to cease selling sex for drugs and stop sharing needles. The addicts are also more likely to stay on antiretroviral drugs, which lower the chance that they will infect others. The authors suggested that opiate-substitution therapy was effective because addicts who are motivated enough to pursue treatment are also smart about protecting themselves in other ways. The study estimated that contaminated needles cause 5 to 10 percent of all the world’s HIV infections. The problem is the most serious in Eastern Europe and Central and Southeast Asia, regions that are located on the fringes of opium-growing areas.