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People who use substances are at a greater risk for contracting HIV.

Here’s what they can do to stay safe.

People who inject substances are 22 times more at risk of contracting HIV compared with the general population (CDC, 2019). Studies show that using substances can impair one’s judgment and lower inhibitions which could lead to poor decisions or risky behaviors. Substance use can be linked to risky sexual behavior and needle sharing, two things that people using substances need to be aware of.

The Human Immunodificency Virus (HIV) can be spread through unprotected sex, mother to child and through sharing needles. This virus affects the body’s immune system which lowers the ability to fight off infections and other illnesses. People who use and share needles are at an increased risk of contracting HIV as the virus can be spread through blood which can be found on used needles. The best way to prevent HIV is through abstinence, using barrier methods such as internal and external condoms and not sharing needles or works.

Additionally, here are a few more ways people using substances can reduce their risk of contracting HIV:

  • Using only new, sterile needles and works each time someone injects. Some communities have needle exchange programs where users have access to clean, sterile needles. - In the northwest suburbs of Chicago check out Live4Lali.

  • Never sharing needles or works.

  • Cleaning skin with a new alcohol swab before injecting.

  • Watching out for someone else’s blood on hands, needles or works.

  • Dispose of needles safely after one use. Use a sharps container, or keep used needles away from other people.

  • Get tested for HIV at least once a year.

  • Ask your doctor about taking daily medicine to prevent HIV called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

However, the best way someone using substances can lower their chances of getting HIV is to stop using injectable drugs. There are many resources available for people who use substances, including recovery programs and needle sharing programs. Live4Lali and Kenneth Young Center are here to help! Please see the above articles to learn more about Kenneth Young Center virtual SMART Recovery meetings and Live4Lali’s needle exchange program.

Next week is HIV and STI awareness week. Check back in to the newsletter or subscribe to this blog to find more information about HIV, how it can spread and what people can do to protect themselves. Stay safe and stay healthy!

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