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BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) -

New study looks at impact of tranquilizers on increase in HIV

Vancouver, BC [March 14, 2016] - The recent spike in opioid-related overdoses and deaths, due to escalating prescription opioid use and the introduction of illicit fentanyl, has raised concerns regarding the impact of opioid use and illegal drug manufacturing in communities across Canada. While most of the emphasis had been focused on the harms of opioids, less emphasis has been placed on benzodiazepines – also known as tranquilizers.

A recent study from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence , is the first to demonstrate a link between the use of benzodiazepines and an increased risk of HIV infection among people who inject drugs.

“Although the harms associated with prescription drugs are a growing international concern, the impact of benzodiazepines on health-related harms such as HIV infection and overdose has not been well assessed,” said study lead author, Dr. Sarah Ickowicz, a resident physician conducting research with St. Paul's addiction program. “In light of these findings, the practice of overprescribing benzodiazepines coupled with a weak system of prescription medication monitoring in British Columbia need to be addressed.”

Making matters worse, a recent survey of street-involved adults and youth revealed that benzodiazepines are also extremely easy access through illegal sources, with individuals reporting being able to obtain the drug illegally in less than 10 minutes

“Given the highly addictive nature of benzodiazepines, and the associated increased risk of HIV infection and other harms, physicians should exercise caution when prescribing benzodiazepines and look to alternative and safer medications when possible,” said study senior author Dr. Thomas Kerr, Professor of Medicine (Division of AIDS) at the University of British Columbia and director of BC-CFE's Urban Health Research Initiative. “It is important to note benzodiazepines are also commonly implicated as a contributor to overdose mortality and other harms, and so the association with HIV infection should not be viewed in isolation.”

Of an estimated 2.1 million people who inject drugs in North America, over 320,000 are living with HIV/AIDS. In Canada, people who inject drugs account for approximately 14 per cent of HIV cases in the country.

Data were derived from 1,682 HIV-negative injection drug users enrolled in the Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study (VIDUS) and who were recruited between May 1996 and November 2013. To qualify for the study, participants had to be 18 years of age or older, test HIV negative at the start of the study and return to the study office for regular HIV testing. Of those individuals, 501 participants reported using benzodiazepine at the start of the study. During this time, 176 individuals became HIV positive.


About the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) is Canada's largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility and is internationally recognized as an innovative world leader in combating HIV/AIDS and related diseases. BC-CfE is based at St. Paul's Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. The BC-CfE works in close collaboration with key provincial stakeholders, including government, health authorities, health care providers, academics from other institutions, and the community to decrease the health burden of HIV and AIDS. By developing, monitoring and disseminating comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related illnesses, the BC-CfE helps improve the health of British Columbians.

For additional information or to request interviews, please contact:
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Reproduced with permission - "B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS"

B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

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