HIV drug is found to protect drug users


Dr. Lisa Sterman holds up a Truvada pill at her office in San Francisco. Last Wednesday, U.S. health officials said the drug Truvada is an option for preventing infection in people who inject illegal drugs. (The Associated Press)

Published: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 3:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 3:14 p.m.

Atlanta

Doctors should consider giving a daily AIDS drug to another high risk group to help prevent infections — people who shoot heroin, methamphetamines or other injection drugs, U.S. health officials said last Wednesday.

A similar recommendation is already in place for gay men and heterosexual couples at high risk of catching HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The latest advice was triggered by the results of a study done in Thailand that showed the AIDS drug tenofovir protected many drug users. Volunteers who took the daily pill were about 50 percent less likely to become infected than those given a dummy pill.

“This study completes the story” telling how HIV drugs can protect people at highest risk of infection, said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of AIDS prevention for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The research by the CDC and the Thailand government was published online last Wednesday by the journal Lancet.

Based on the findings, the CDC recommended that doctors consider prescribing tenofovir to those who inject drugs. It blocks the virus from making copies and spreading through the body. In the U.S., tenofovir is included in an AIDS drug called Truvada.

HIV infections in drug users is a bigger problem worldwide, where they account for about 1 in 10 new cases each year and the vast majority of infections in some places in Eastern Europe and central Asia. In the U.S., they represent about 1 in 13 new cases. People who inject drugs can spread the AIDS virus to others through sex or sharing tainted needles.

How many people already take the drug in the U.S. to protect against infection isn’t known; the CDC only began recommending it for that purpose the last two years. And health officials acknowledge it’s not clear how many of the nation’s 1 million injection drug users would have the money or insurance to pay for it.

The only approved version in the U.S. is Truvada, made by Gilead Sciences Inc. It costs more than $14,000 a year. In Thailand, the tenofovir used in the study costs about $360.

Truvada came on the market in 2004 to treat people who already have the AIDS virus. Since then, six studies have been done in different high risk groups to see if it could prevent infections. Two failed, but health officials believe those results were skewed because many participants did not take the drugs faithfully.

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