Philly nonprofit raises new concerns about intersection between opioid crisis and HIV

Flashpoint
November 30, 2018 - 4:00 am
Saturday is World AIDS Day, a time when the world unites in the fight against AIDS and supports those living with HIV. Local health care officials are taking a look at a recent uptick in new infections.

Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Saturday is World AIDS Day, a time when the world unites in the fight against AIDS and supports those living with HIV, and Philadelphia health care officials are taking a look at a recent uptick in new infections.

"The numbers of people who were using drugs have been extremely stable in Philadelphia for 15 years," said Jane Schull, CEO of Philadelphia FIGHT, an AIDS and health service organization.  

Philadelphia FIGHT hosts a clinic in Kensington inside Prevention Point Philadelphia, a nonprofit that provides IV drug users free clean needles in an effort to reduce harm. The effort has helped keep the number of new HIV cases low for years.  

But in October, the Phildadelphia Department of Public Health released a health advisory, identifying 46 new cases of HIV in the past year. That number is 48 percent higher than the 31 cases in the previous year.

"The numbers aren't that huge, but doubling in a year is kind of like a flashing red light and I think we need to be concerned about it," said Shull.

More than half of those with new HIV infections, 57 percent, also had Hepatitis C.  

The Health Department is investigating and says it's too early to determine if the numbers indicate a new trend in HIV infecttion. Nationally, the numbers of HIV diagnosis among IV drug users have been on the decline or have remained stable.

HIV and AIDS can be passed through blood.  

Schull says besides clean needles and safe sex, IV drug users can reduce harm by using PREP, a prescription drug.

"You take one pill once a day, and you will not acquire HIV," she said.