I've recently come across news articles comparing HIV and the Opiate Epidemic plaguing the country. At first I thought the comparison was strange, but after doing some research, I can understand the similarities between the two. With the escalating epidemic of opiate addiction in the United States, health care professionals are looking for the reasons as well as possible solutions for opiate abuse. Researchers feel that the similarities between HIV positive individuals and opiate addicts may help guide efforts to combat the narcotic drug addiction and abuse. Researchers conducted a comparative review of both epidemics side by side in their recent publication in the American Journal of Medicine.
Both HIV and opiate addiction tend to affect people who are young, healthy and who suffer from social disapproval because of the disease or their addiction. Many feel that it is hard to come out to the public that one is HIV positive or an opiate addict because of the social stigma that is associated with both. A lot of opiate addicts would rather try to cure themselves on their own behind closed doors rather than admitting their problem to their close family or friends. Similarly, HIV patients face the same judgement and many refuse to tell anyone that they have the virus because of the social stigma that is attached to it.
The death rate between the two epidemics is similar, although the public health response to opioid addiction lags far behind HIV. This is due to the strong education system about HIV and AIDS. Students are educated in schools about the virus from a young age. They are taught how HIV can be contracted through unprotected sex or through intravenous drug use such as heroin. HIV is not a disease that you can see when looking at someone, which is basically the same when it comes to opiate addicts. Your next door neighbor, your bus driver, or your coworkers could be opiate addicts and not show any symptoms.
Close to 16 percent of Americans (40 million) are addicted to some sort of drug, alcohol or tobacco. Opiate addiction is the fastest rising category and becoming very popular. Opiate abuse has reached epidemic levels and has made many states scramble to find new ways to fight the problem. Researchers argue that an effective response to the opiate addiction crisis would be similar to the human rights efforts to combat HIV that took place in the 1980s. A lot of education occurred in the 80's and 90's that allowed for community advocacy, better research and activism which helped educate the public on HIV. Many feel that handling the opiate epidemic as the HIV was handled would be greatly beneficial to our society.
Taking a step back and really thinking about the similarities of HIV and opiate epidemics brings an overwhelming amount of concern. The fact that they both take lives, intertwine illicit drug use and how they affect people in the community can be devastating. I hope to see the same human rights efforts that were shown for HIV to take place for the opiate epidemic. The more people who are educated at younger ages as to the risk of opiates, the better our society will be.