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At the First National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV, and Hepatitis, held in Salt Lake City in August 2005, Patricia Case, Sc D, MPH, a professor of social medicine at Harvard University, spoke about "America's love affair" with stimulants, which have tended to follow waxing and waning cycles of popularity since World War II.
Two of the most urgent concerns with the current meth wave in America are the appearance of the drug in both urban and rural areas and the association between meth use and HIV, hepatitis C virus (HCV), and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).There is little evidence of a direct interaction between meth and HIV that accelerates immune decline, but meth use can undermine the general health of the user.There is also a growing body of evidence that meth's harmful effects on the brain may be exacerbated in people with HIV, and that any HIV-related neurological impairments may be worsened by meth use.There are an estimated 35 million methamphetamine users worldwide and approximately 1.5 million users in the United States.The demographics of American meth users are remarkably diverse in terms of race, gender, and geography, although the drug tends to be favored by individuals with fewer economic resources and opportunities, and it is often produced in rural homes, or "meth houses." In a recent U. Department of Health and Human Services analysis of hospital emergency room admissions in which meth was a factor, approximately 40% of patients were female, 65% were white, and 56% were between the ages of 18 and 34.Nationally, the current outbreak of meth use has some novel features, including local production, the coast-to-coast scale of the outbreak, and the use of meth in combination with other drugs.
Also new is the increase in smoking as a route of administration; about half of the individuals in the emergency room analysis reported smoking meth.
One particularly potent, crystalline form of methamphetamine now found on the street resembles rock candy or ice crystals -- in fact, "ice" is one street name for the drug, as is "crystal," which then becomes "Christina" and "Tina." Recent prices for crystal meth are said to run from about $20 per quarter gram in San Francisco to $60 to $80 in New York City.
When the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced in January 2005 that a gay man in his forties had become infected with a multidrug-resistant "superstrain" of HIV and had progressed to AIDS within a few months, much was made of the man's use of methamphetamine.
The case highlighted two important aspects of the intersection of methamphetamine use and HIV.
First is the fairly well-established role the drug can play in facilitating new infections by lowering users' inhibitions and encouraging sexual practices that increase the risk of HIV transmission.
The second aspect is the idea that methamphetamine somehow speeds up the HIV disease process.