HIV and Crystal Meth: Beyond Just Primary Prevention

By Joss Greene, BLC Intern

Public health education about HIV and IV-drug use must be expanded beyond risks of transmission.  While researchers promote more comprehensive, lifestyle-oriented models for studying HIV/AIDS, many continue to isolate the topic of crystal meth use to conversations around primary prevention.  HIV positive people face considerable health risks if they are crystal meth users, and information about those affects should be more widely circulated.

A 2007 report from the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study showed that men using meth and poppers who had unprotected receptive anal sex with one partner had a 2.71risk rate relative to men who didn’t use the drug; men who had unprotected sex with 5+ partners had a 13.57risk rate.[1] This study leaves too many variables unaddressed to conclude meth diminishes CD4 count or speeds up HIV replication, but scientists analyzing the interaction between meth and HIV at a chemical level have supporting evidence.

In 2009 a New York-based research team explored the effect of meth on the rate of HIV replication and determined that while further tests must be done, crystal does appear to hasten the progression of HIV.  Adding meth to test tubes with immune cells produced a marked increase in HIV replication, particularly in CD4 cells.  When HIV-infected mice were given crystal, a segment of the HIV genetic code was switched on and began producing tumor necrosis factor alpha, a protein linked to accelerated HIV disease progression.[2]

Some speculate that the correlation between meth use and increased HIV disease progression is due to lifestyle factors.  Meth users may have more difficulty sleeping, eating properly, or maintaining a routine.[3] A decline in healthy living habits has been linked to weakened immune system and may contribute to accelerated HIV progression.  An additional component of living healthy with HIV is commitment to medication.  Users who have difficulty following a schedule may struggle with adhering to their medication regimen and compromise their health in this way.

Crystal meth use compromises healthy living practices and recent research suggests that crystal may have a direct influence on the rate of HIV replication.  It is, therefore, important for anyone who is HIV-positive and currently using crystal to address risks with a healthcare provider.  If you are HIV-positive and want to reduce or stop your crystal meth use, you’re in the right city! Many organizations in the Greater Boston area provide assistance with addiction and several have distinguished themselves for attentiveness to the needs of HIV+ people:

Fenway Health offers acupuncture detox and multiple support groups, as well as their New Champions program which provides peer support and referral services to gay and bisexual men struggling with meth addiction.

Victory Programs offer a range of recovery services with a focus on residential alcohol and addiction treatment programs.

Crystal Meth Anonymous hosts meetings to offer peer support staying clean and discuss challenges of recovery.


[1] Michael Carter, “Gay men who use methamphetamine have greater risk of HIV seroconversion,” AIDSmap, May 29, 2007.  <http://www.aidsmap.com/en/news/62AA3D55-32FE-41B4-9C6D-3C7E8042E6B4.asp&gt;

[2] “Crystal meth accelerates HIV reproduction,” AIDSMeds, November 9, 2009.  <http://www.aidsmeds.com/articles/hiv_crystal_meth_1667_17533.shtml&gt;

[3] “Methamphetamine,” AIDSmap, June 4, 2010.  <http://aidsmap.com/cms1045235.asp&gt;

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