Chapter Eight

Facing up to AIDS

Stewart Dickson and Jane Hollis

This chapter discusses the problem of Human Immunosuppressive Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in relation to drug abusers and how the risks of infection in this group can be reduced. It deals with how to counsel people before and after an antibody test, and looks at the working environment and the future prospects for drug agencies.


Introduction

Drug abusers have never bothered about hepatitis, overdoses, choking to death on their own vomit, thrombosis, gangrene or heroin cut with strychnine—so why should they worry about AIDS? The fact that more and more drug abusers are being identified as HIV-positive is unlikely to influence them.

AIDS is potentially the most serious sociomedical situation facing us at present. In the words of the World Health Organisation: ‘We are for the first time in history at the beginning of a plague’.

At the beginning of the AIDS scare, the main risk groups were identified as homosexual men, drug abusers, and recipients of infected blood. The homosexual community have responded to information campaigns quickly and responsibly. Research by doctors from the Middlesex University College Hospital points to a change to safer sexual practices which is already leading to a slowdown in the rise of HIV infection (Anon 1987a). A study of homosexual and bisexual men attending the Middlesex Hospital sexually transmitted diseases (STD) clinic found that between 1982 and 1984 the number who were seropositive rose by 7.4 per cent a year. But by December 1986 this increase had fallen to 1.8 per cent. The slower rise in antibody positive men coincided with a fall in the annual rate of gonorrhoea from 15.3 per cent in 1982 to only 5.1 per cent in the first half of 1986.

All donated blood in the western world is now tested and heat-

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