Canada study finds link between smoking crack, HIV

Mon Oct 19, 2009 1:13pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Smoking crack cocaine daily adds to the risk of spreading HIV, a Canadian study published on Monday says, although researchers acknowledge they are not sure about the exact link.

The researchers, who studied the relationship between drug use and HIV in Vancouver's impoverished Downtown Eastside, one of Canada's most drug infested neighborhoods, said the findings show the need for new efforts, such as opening "safe inhalation rooms", to help drug addicts.

The nine-year study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, also found that the number of addicts smoking crack cocaine on a daily basis in the neighborhood has increased steadily.

The Vancouver neighborhood's problems of drugs, poverty and homelessness are expected to attract substantial international media attention this winter, when the Pacific Coast city hosts the Winter Olympics.

Researchers said that when they began the study in 1996 they did not see evidence that smoking crack cocaine daily increased the risk of contracting HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS.

But signs of risk association developed midway through the study and evidence increased over time, along with growth in the number of study participants who admitted to smoking crack, a solid variant of cocaine that is highly addictive.

Study participants who reported smoking crack on a daily basis were four times more likely to become infected with HIV than those who smoked it less often or not at all, according to the researchers.

The virus may be spread because addicts with mouth wounds share smoking pipes with HIV-infected users, but the researchers said they did not know for sure. Engaging in unprotected sex while on drug binges might also be a cause, they said.   Continued...

<p>A man places a piece of crack cocaine into a pipe to be smoked in the suburb of Bluefields City in the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua January 28, 2007. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas</p>