U.S. Airstrikes in Afghanistan Could Change Region’s Heroin Market, Boosting IV Drug Use and Prompting Spread of HIV
The U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan could contribute to an "AIDS explosion" in Central Asia by disrupting the trade in heroin, causing the drug's price to rise and leading to more individuals in the region injecting instead of sniffing the drug, Reuters/Contra Costa Times reports. More than 95% of the heroin sold on the street in Europe is grown in poppy fields in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. However, the "flood of heroin has slowed" since U.S. and British warplanes began their airstrikes on Sunday. Participants in a meeting of the Research Network on HIV Prevention in Drug Using Populations in Melbourne, Australia, said that rising prices of the drug could "force" heroin users in Central Asia who used to sniff the drug to "turn to intravenous" heroin use, a main transmission route for HIV. Nadeem-ur-Rehman, an HIV/AIDS worker and researcher in Pakistan with the nongovernmental organization Nai Zindagi, said that there are "already signs of a shift" to injection use in the border city of Quetta. He added that Pakistan is estimated to have about 500,000 heroin users, approximately 440,000 of whom inhale the drug. Rehman said that less than 1% of Pakistanis have AIDS, but the country is still "vulnerable" to the virus because of the prevalence of needle-sharing, blood selling and prostitution. An AIDS epidemic in Pakistan could carry implications for all of Asia, Alex Wodak of St. Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, Australia, said. "We have learned that HIV does not follow national boundaries. It is likely that if there is a large pool of people who are HIV-positive in Pakistan, you can be sure it will flow into neighboring countries," he added (Pugh, Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 10/12).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.