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Are cocaine abusers at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C?

Yes, cocaine abusers are at increased risk for contracting such infectious diseases as human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) and viral hepatitis. This risk stems not only from sharing contaminated needles and drug paraphernalia but also from engaging in risky behaviors as a result of intoxication. Research has shown that drug intoxication and addiction can compromise judgment and decisionmaking, and potentially lead to risky sexual encounters, needle sharing, and trading sex for drugs—by both men and women. In fact, some studies are showing that among drug abusers, those who do not inject drugs are contracting HIV at rates equal to those who do inject drugs, further highlighting the role of sexual transmission of HIV in this population.

Additionally, hepatitis C (HCV) has spread rapidly among injecting drug users. Risk begins with the first injection, and within 2 years, nearly 40 percent of injection drug users (IDUs) are exposed to HCV. By the time IDUs have been injecting for 5 years, their chances of being infected with HCV are between 50 and 80 percent. Although treatment for HCV is not effective for everyone and can have significant side effects, medical followup is essential for all those who are infected. There is no vaccine for the hepatitis C virus, and it is highly transmissible via injection; thus, HCV testing is recommended for any individual who has ever injected drugs.

This page was last updated September 2010

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This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.