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Learn the link between drug abuse and the spread of HIV infection in the United States.

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Message from the Director

The Link Between HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has been with us for a generation. Today's teens and young adults have never known a world without it. While research has shown that a large proportion of young people are not concerned about becoming infected with HIV, the proportion of young people (age 13 to 24) who are living with HIV in 2005 comprises approximately 4 percent of all cases. [*]

NIDA has launched a public service campaign as part of its "Learn the Link" between drug abuse and HIV initiative. The campaign is designed to raise awareness among this generation of the real risks of drug use for transmitting HIV, and it encourages them to share this information with their peers to prevent the spread of this disease.

NIDA's public service announcements depict the devastating consequences of compromised judgment and critical thinking that can result from drug use. Young women are increasingly at risk for HIV/AIDS infection through risky sexual behaviors. In fact, new data show that by the end of 2005, more than 70 percent of women diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the United States became infected through high-risk heterosexual contact, compared with 26 percent through injection drug use. [**]

NIDA researchers have studied and continue to study the links between drug abuse and HIV/AIDS. In the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it became clear that injection drug abuse played a significant role in the widespread transmission of the disease. Since the epidemic began, injection drug use has directly and indirectly accounted for about one-third of the AIDS cases in the United States. We now know that the behaviors and practices associated with non-injection drug use also contribute significantly to the spread of this lethal virus.

Although we currently have medical therapies that can greatly extend the lives of people infected with HIV/AIDS, drug use can interfere with an individual's likelihood of adhering to the treatment regimen and realizing beneficial outcomes. NIDA research has shown this to be true for people on HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), for example, who continue to use drugs.

NIDA-supported research has also shown that methamphetamine abuse and HIV infection both cause significant changes in certain brain structures-changes associated with impaired cognition. Consequently, when an HIV positive person also abuses methamphetamine, the result may be greater impairment than with either condition alone.

The Learn the Link public service campaign is just one example of how NIDA continues to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. More information about the link between HIV/AIDS and drug abuse is available at As we learn more about the critical connection between drug abuse and HIV/AIDS and the discovery of promising treatment interventions for breaking the harmful links between them, we will continue to update this Web site.


Nora D. Volkow, M.D.

* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Statistics and Surveillance Report: Cases of HIV Infection and AIDS in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2005 (
). Atlanta, GA: CDC, DHHS. Retrieved May 2007.
** Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention. AIDS Cases by Exposure Category (
). Atlanta, GA: CDC, DHHS. Retrieved May 2007.
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NIDA: National Institute on Drug Abuse The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the principal biomedical and behavioral research agency of the United States Government. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH: National Institutes of Health