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People who have HIV or are at a greater risk for contracting the virus can oftentimes have addiction problems that go unnoticed. In many cases the focus shifts to preventing or treating the virus and they neglect the substance abuse issues. However, drugs and alcohol are a real threat to these patients and part of their treatment needs to include drug and alcohol screening and rehabilitation if necessary.
Researchers at Boston Medical Center went to work customizing a treatment program and screening policy geared towards patients with HIV or high-risk individuals. In order to develop an effective protocol, a study was conducted focusing on people with a higher risk of contracting HIV due to their drug use. Researchers were examining people who placed themselves at a greater risk for contracting HIV or AIDS because of their use of needles or substances that lower sexual inhibitions. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
One of the challenges that healthcare providers face when it comes to addiction among HIV-infected people is that they often go to multiple doctors during the course of their treatment. “We know that this patient population often seeks care in emergency rooms where they see physicians who may not know their medical history. As a result, unhealthy drug and alcohol use often goes unaddressed. Our model aims to integrate evidence-based addiction treatment into primary care,” explained Alexander Walley, the lead author of the study and attending physician in general internal medicine at Boston Medical Center.
The study shows that weekly addiction counseling combined with weekly HIV risk-reductions and overdose-prevention counseling may be an effective treatment for this group of patients. This type of intervention can often be enough to change the course of people’s lives for the better, even if it just part-time.
At the end of the study it was determined that dependence on drugs and/or alcohol had decreased noticeably, and had dropped below 50%. Researchers point out that including a mental health component in the treatment model is effective because patients with deadly diseases often experience high rates of depression.