HIV Joins the Opioid Crisis in West Virginia
West Virginia has had a tough go of it through this drug crisis. The state has been a major target of pharmaceutical companies who flooded rural areas with a complete over-abundance of painkillers and now, HIV cases in the state are spiking in certain areas. These are called “clusters.” This news comes on the back of recent announcements from the Trump administration that they are looking into new measures to eradicate HIV and AIDS within the next ten years.
Cabell County, a small, rural area of West Virginia, recently reported 74 new HIV infections since 2018. What’s really weird about it is that this problem is peeking its head out in a sparsely populated part of a state that has a really good public health system. Also, despite the fact that a lot of attention has been put on handling HIV/AIDS in the area, these newly reported infections have still happened. Of course, IV drug use has long been a problem in the state, so this could very well be the effects of a completely out-of-control drug epidemic.
According to Politico.com, Cabell County has put funding into “testing, drug treatment programs and expanded access to treatment that significantly reduces the likelihood of HIV infection if taken every day. This treatment, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), is a centerpiece of efforts to stamp out new infections.”
What’s important to realize here is that HIV and AIDS are still a very real threat to IV drug users. Sharing contaminated needles is one of the most common ways of contracting HIV and it’s no surprise that there’s been an increase in new infections in areas like West Virginia.
Back in the 1980s when HIV and AIDS first became a huge problem, there was a lot of fear and misunderstanding about the virus. It was so bad, people were afraid to come into casual contact with an infected person. As time went on, the fight against HIV and AIDS took a back seat to more current social issues such as cancer.
Advances in medicine have taken HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to what’s now considered a chronic, manageable illness. However, the virus hasn’t been eradicated and new people are being infected with some regularity. Obviously, certain populations—such as IV drug users—are more susceptible to infection than others and a lot of care and caution needs to be undertaken by those engaging in this type of behavior.
As there are more IV drug users than ever before, it’s not strange that HIV infections are on the rise in the midst of a drug epidemic. With the possibility of more people not having access to clean needles, it’s no wonder that HIV infections would jump—especially in remote areas that might not have access to needle exchanges and other harm-reduction methods.
To me, this is just another indicator of a drug problem that we haven’t even made a dent in yet. We need to keep fighting, and those who are currently IV drug users really need to pay attention to the fact that HIV still exists and it’s still entirely possible to get infected. The choices are to either be as careful and hygienic as possible or, better still, seek treatment to avoid the risk altogether.