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Puerto Rican Drug Injectors Are Twice As Likely to Contract HIV

Update Date: Sep 11, 2014 03:27 PM EDT

New research reveals that Puerto Ricans who inject drugs are more likely to contract HIV than their American counterparts, according to a new study.

"We reviewed HIV-related data for PRPWID living in Puerto Rico and Northeastern US, which contains the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans out of any US region," senior researcher Dr. Sherry Deren, a scientist at NYU College of Nursing, and director of the university's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, said in a news release. "Injection drug use as a risk for HIV continues to be over-represented among Puerto Ricans. Lower availability of HIV prevention tools (syringe exchange and drug treatment) and ART treatment challenges, for Puerto Rican people who inject drugs in Puerto Rico, contribute to higher HIV risk and incidence for Puerto Rican people who inject drugs in both locations."

According to 2010 statistics, the Northeast had the highest reported rates of new AIDS diagnoses. The region also had more new infections attributed to injection drug use than other regions of the US.

Researchers noted that Hispanics accounted for 27 percent of people diagnosed in Northeast America. Researchers noted that nearly half of Hispanics in the US diagnosed with HIV lived in the Northeast.

However, researchers found that the rate of HIV diagnoses attributed to injection drugs use in Puerto Rico was over times greater than in the rest of the US in 2010. This is troubling as Puerto Ricans, who account for nearly 23 percent of HIC cases among Hispanics, make up only 9 percent of the US Hispanic population.

The study also revealed that heterosexual HIV transmission has now surpassed injection-related HIV transmission in Puerto Rico, with 40.7 percent of cases caused by heterosexual sexual intercourse and 20.4 percent caused by drug injections.

"Controlling heterosexual transmission of HIV will require controlling HIV infection among people who inject drugs, as those who inject drugs and are sexually active will serve as a continuing reservoir for future heterosexual transmission if injecting-related HIV transmission is not brought under control," stressed Deren.

"The differences in the annual budgets have very important implications for reducing HIV transmission and other health problems among people who inject drugs," said Deren. "Larger budgets for such programs allows for a greater number of syringes to be exchanged, and for programs to offer other services in addition to the exchange, such as HIV screenings."

The findings are published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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