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Cocaine use lowers immunity in HIV-positive patients

Cocaine use lowers immunity in HIV-positive patients

The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) highlighted that there were approximately 36.7 million people worldwide living with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) at the end of 2016. The treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection has undergone considerable changes. The administration of intensive antiretroviral therapies  to treat HIV treatment had significantly reduced morbidity and mortality among patients.

The effective highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has led to a marked improvement in life expectancy in HIV-infected people. Despite the decline in fatal incidents due to AIDS, patients run the risk of becoming weak due to poor immunity and develop many complications, prominently cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Under such circumstances, it is essential to keep a check over the consumption of addictive substances like cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs, etc. to avoid further deterioration of health and weakening of the immune system.

HIV-positive patients indulging in cocaine witness more side effects

According to two studies funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), it was found that HIV-infected crack cocaine users experience a sharp decline in immune function, irrespective of their adherence to therapy. Likewise, cocaine and methamphetamine increased the ease with which the HIV virus entered immune cells and its replication rate once inside the cells.

One of the above-mentioned studies, conducted by Dr. Marianna Baum and colleagues at Florida International University, carried out the research on HIV-positive people indulging in cocaine to determine whether crack cocaine had an effect on HIV progression. Independent of their adherence to antiretroviral therapy, researchers found a close association between cocaine use and other virus found in their blood. However, they did not find increased viral load due to alcohol, marijuana and powdered cocaine. While the immune cell CD4 count before the research was 200 CD4 cells/μL, it diminished massively due to crack cocaine abuse.

Separately, they analyzed the data of 53 participants with more than 200 CD4 cells/μL at baseline who were not taking antiretroviral drugs. Around 51 percent of these crack cocaine users saw a drop in their CD4count below 200 CD4 cells/μL during the 30-month follow-up, compared with 13 percent of the nonusers of the drug.  Besides reducing treatment adherence, crack cocaine exacerbates AIDS symptoms by accelerating the decline of the CD4 cell count.

Researchers elucidated that cocaine increases production of one of the receptors, called DC-SIGN that dendritic cells use to capture invading organisms. As a result, cocaine increases the rate of replication of HIV within dendritic cells, further increasing the spread of virus to other immune-system cells and leading to the demise of dendritic cells.

Recently, a new study examined the modification of protease inhibitor (PI)-associated dyslipidemia in adults on cocaine use. Around 957 HIV-infected people from Baltimore, Maryland, were enrolled in the study to determine comorbidities associated with HIV/antiretroviral. The results suggested a positive association of total cholesterol (TC), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), TC/high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) ratio, and atherogenic index of plasma (AIP) levels with the duration of PI-based therapy in persistent cocaine users. While non-chronic cocaine users on long-term PI therapy witnessed increased HDL-C levels, the persistent users (around 15 years) who received PI therapy for less than a year ran the risk of developing hypertriglyceridemia (leading to stroke, heart attack, etc.) and abnormal atherogenic index of plasma (AIP).

Seek treatment to overcome addiction

The above findings and statistics highlight the debilitating effects of drug addiction, especially cocaine. The abuse of any form of substance, be it heroin or cocaine, can be dangerous, with the repercussion experienced across both professional and personal life. If action is not taken on time, it could be fatal. Apart from ravaging the life of the user, drugs are also responsible for causing  a number of overwhelming emotions.

If you or your loved one is struggling with substance abuse, it is imperative to seek professional help. The Texas Substance Abuse Helpline offers a variety of evidence-based treatment plans. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-971-2658 or chat online to connect to the best substance abuse treatment centers or get information on substance abuse treatment programs in Texas.