Updated 08:48 AM EST, Sun, Dec 04, 2016
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Colombia's Growing Heroin Trade Could Increase HIV Infections?

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Heroin Addict
circa 1970: A close-up of a drug addict using a syringe to inject himself. (Photo : William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images)

Colombia may see more HIV cases in the years to come as studies link the sexually-transmitted disease to the intensifying problem in illegal substance abuse in the country.

A recent study from New York University discovered an alarmingly high rate of injection-related risks such as HIV in the South American country after the heroin trade swelled.

Citing the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, experts from NYU correlated the increase in heroin usage in Colombia from 1998 to 2004 as a major factor in the increased number of HIV cases in the country.

According to the study called "Heroin Use and Injection Risk Behaviors in Colombia: Implications for HIV/AIDS Prevention" published in the "Substance Use and Misuse" journal, HIV can also be spread through sharing injections in addition to the well-known sexual contact transfer.

To determine the rate of risk, NYU Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) principal investigator Dr. Pedro Mateu-Gelabert analyzed the heroin injectors population in two Colombian cities: Pereira and Medellín.

According to Mateu-Gelabert, the cities were chosen because of their status as the 'epicenters for street level drug sales.'

He further noted that the study found a significant number of youth who are included in what they call "people who inject drugs" or PWID.

Furthermore, a total of 72 percent of the PWID population in the Colombian cities said that there were people who assisted them in injecting drugs into their system, whereas 42 percent said they used the same syringe provided by these people.

The test population reported several reasons for this, including not having a syringe of their own.

Some even thought it was safe to use the same syringe as long as they cleaned it with alcohol and other cleaning agents like bleach or soap prior to the injection.

What is alarming about this is that 2.7 percent of the total number of participants tested positive for HIV based on blood examination results.

This provides an avenue for the virus to spread throughout the PWID population.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug typically used as a painkiller.

It acts by entering the brain where it is converted into morphine, a well-known painkiller that binds molecules known as opioid receptors which are located in the part of the brain that controls automatic bodily processes such as arousal, blood pressure, and respiration.

It can be administered via injections or by inhalation methods including snorting, sniffing or smoking.

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