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Detrimental Effects of Continued Illicit Drug Use on the Treatment of HIV-1 Infection

Lucas Gregory M.; Cheever, Laura W.; Chaisson, Richard E.; Moore, Richard D.
JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes: July 1st, 2001
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Objective:To identify the effects of substance abuse status (active, former, and never) on utilization of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), medication adherence, and virologic and immunologic responses to therapy.

Design:Prospective cohort study of 764 HIV-1-infected patients who attended an urban HIV clinic and participated in a standardized interview.

Main Outcome Measures:Past utilization of HAART, self-reported nonadherence with antiretroviral therapy, and changes in HIV-1 RNA level and CD4+ lymphocyte count relative to prior peak and nadir, respectively.

Results:Forty-four percent of active drug users failed to utilize HAART compared with 22% of former drug users and 18% of non-drug users (p < .001 for both comparisons). Among participants who were taking antiretroviral therapy when interviewed, active drug users were more likely to report medication nonadherence (34% vs. 24% of nonusers and 17% of former users), had a smaller median reduction in HIV-1 RNA from baseline (0.8 log10 copies/ml vs. 1.7 in nonusers and 1.6 in former users), and had smaller median increases in CD4+ lymphocyte count from baseline (65 cells/mm3 vs. 116 in nonusers and 122 in former users) (p < .05 for all comparisons with active users).

Conclusions:Active drug use was strongly associated with underutilization of HAART, nonadherence, and inferior virologic and immunologic responses to therapy, whereas former drug users and non-drug users were similar in all outcomes. Effective strategies are needed that integrate HIV-1 and substance abuse treatments.

Address correspondence to Gregory M. Lucas, 1830 East Monument Street, Room 457, Baltimore, MD 21287, U.S.A.; email:

Manuscript received February 2, 2001; accepted March 29, 2001.

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.