Opioid addiction adding to HIV infection rates

SAN ANTONIO – For years, Bexar County has been fighting to reduce the rates of infection of HIV among residents.

But there is a wrinkle in those efforts that has not been helping: opioid addiction.

Opioid abuse and addiction takes the lives of thousands of people each year in the U.S. For many, it starts with prescription pain killers. Researchers at the Department of Health and Human Services have found that nearly two in five American adults used narcotic pain drugs in the past year.

Those who crush pills to inject themselves with the drug not only face the possibility of overdose, there is also the concern of getting or passing on HIV

RELATED: Baptist Medical treatment program helps mothers, newborns battle opiate withdrawals

“Even if you stop using the drug, the vulnerability to go back to using stays with you for a long, long time. If not for the rest of your life,” Dr. Petros Levounis said.

Levounis came to San Antonio from Rutgers University and showed how the battle against opioids and HIV intersect.

“There is quite a lot of data that supports the idea that patients who suffer from addiction, specifically from an opioid addiction have poorer outcomes in their HIV course,” Levounis said. “They're less adherent to treatment programs. And they end up having higher death rates and worse quality of life.”

READ MORE: New task force to tackle local opioid crisis

HIV medication also came up as a topic for conversation. Levounis said it doesn't get the person high, but it does have a value on the black market. Though uncommon, someone without HIV could buy the life-saving medication to help fuel their own addiction.

“When you buy an HIV medication on the street, it's most likely you slow down the liver and therefore have whatever other drugs you're using, last you longer,” he said. "It is not quite as common, but it does happen."

This is just one aspect of the opioid crisis. KSAT will be highlighting the opioid issue and raising awareness about addiction. We will be airing a special one-hour show on the crisis Sept. 6.

About the Author:

Adrian Ortega is a news producer for the Nightbeat. He joined the station in 2016. Adrian helped expand the Nightbeat to a one-hour newscast on the weekend and is now producing for the Nightbeat 5 times per week. He's helped cover the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 winter storm, race and policing in SA and the Alazan-Apache Courts on the West Side.