A growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse is now linked to a different epidemic previously thought to be coming under control in the United States: HIV.
The Indiana Department of Health announced on Wednesday that officials have confirmed 26 cases of HIV, with four more preliminary cases, since mid-December. Most of those were linked to the abuse of the prescription painkiller, Opana, an injection drug containing an ingredient more potent than Oxycontin.
“It’s very concerning to me that most of the individuals who have tested HIV positive have only recently contracted the virus,” said state health commissioner Jerome Adams, according to The Indianapolis Star. “Because prescription drug abuse is at the heart of this outbreak, we are not only working to identify, contact and test individuals who may have been exposed, but also to connect community members to resources for substance abuse treatment and recovery.”
For more than a decade, the number of new HIV infections per year has remained stable in the U.S. at approximately 50,000 – well below the epidemic’s peak in the 1980s, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As the incidence of new HIV infections has dropped, however, prescription drug abuse has been rising steadily.
In 2012, drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death among 25 to 64 year olds, according to the CDC, killing more people from that age bracket than car accidents. Injection drug users represented 8% of new HIV infections in 2010, the CDC reported, and 15% of those living with HIV in 2011.