Ross von Metzke

methamphetamine users are shown to be at least three times more likely to be infected with HIV than those who don’t use the drug, according to a new US government-sponsored study.

“Crystal meth use is the newest and most important threat to the HIV epidemic in the United States,” Dr. James Dilley, director of the University of California, San Francisco AIDS Health Project, said in a prepared statement released this week.

The study was conducted jointly by researchers for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UC San Francisco and the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The study’s findings further emphasize the red flag health officials have been raising in recent years about crystal meth: People who use it drop their inhibitions and are more likely to engage in risky behaviors including unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners.

The findings were first reported in the August issue of the AIDS medical journal. The study looked at 3,000 San Franciscans who received anonymous HIV testing in 2000 and 2001.

Of the 300 people in the study who voluntarily reported they used crystal meth, 6-percent had recently been infected with HIV. The infection rate was close to 8-percent for those who admitted to using crystal meth during sexual encounters.

Among respondents who said they had not used meth, 2 percent had recently contracted HIV.

“It is a complicated problem requiring a carefully planned response,” Dilley said. “Having doctors, public health officials, policymakers and, most importantly, community members working together is the only means of success.” Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, San Francisco’s director of Sexually Transmitted Disease Control and senior author of the study, said it is essential to combine drug-treatment and drug-prevention programs with efforts to curtail HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis.

“It is important to address crystal use to control those epidemics,” Klausner said.