Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

BU: Substance Use Does Not Preclude HIV Control, Though Symptoms Do

About one-third of the more than 1.2 million people living with HIV in the US drink alcohol in unhealthy amounts or use illicit drugs. But the vast majority of those who use substances and receive antiretroviral therapy (ART) still adhere to treatment and achieve viral control, according to a new study co-authored by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

The study, in the journal AIDS Care, looked at adults with HIV who were receiving ART and their rates of adherence to treatment and virologic control. It found that HIV viral suppression was achieved in 78 percent of participants, even though past-30-day substance use was common among the group.

In the study, 86 percent of participants had past 12-month substance dependence, and non-adherence to ART was “strongly associated” with a detectable viral load. But criteria for drug dependence, rather than specific substance use, were associated with a detectable viral load, after accounting for ART adherence—suggesting that poor viral control “is driven by the effect of substance use on one’s life, rather than use itself,” the authors said.

“Optimal HIV outcomes, including a reduction in the risk for HIV transmission, can be achieved by this population,” said co-author Dr.  Richard Saitz, chair and professor of community health sciences at BUSPH. “People who use drugs can have their HIV disease well controlled. Drug use doesn’t seem to interfere much, unless it is accompanied by symptoms of a drug use disorder.”

To read more about the study, go to: