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Learn the link between drug abuse and the spread of HIV infection in the United States.

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Message from the Director

The Link Between HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has been with us for three decades now. Today's teens and young adults have never known a world without it. While research has shown that a large proportion of young people are not concerned about becoming infected with HIV, the proportion of young people (age 13 to 24) who are living with HIV in 2009 comprises about 4 percent of all cases. [*]

NIDA’s "Learn the Link" campaign continues to raise awareness among this generation of the real risks of drug use for transmitting HIV, and it encourages them to share this information with their peers to prevent the spread of this disease.

NIDA's public service announcements depict the devastating consequences of compromised judgment and critical thinking that can result from drug use. Young women are increasingly at risk for HIV infection through risky sexual behaviors. In fact, new data show that in 2010, more than 90 percent of women diagnosed with HIV in the United States became infected through high-risk heterosexual contact, compared with 9 percent through injection drug use. [**]

NIDA researchers have studied and continue to study the links between drug abuse and HIV/AIDS. In the early years of the HIV epidemic, it became clear that injection drug abuse played a significant role in the widespread transmission of the disease. Since the epidemic began, injection drug use has directly and indirectly accounted for about one-third of the AIDS cases in the United States. We now know that the behaviors and practices associated with non-injection drug use also contribute significantly to the spread of this virus.

Although we currently have medical therapies that greatly extend the lives of people infected with HIV, drug use can interfere with an individual's likelihood of adhering to the treatment regimen and realizing beneficial outcomes. NIDA research has shown this to be true for people on HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), for example, who continue to use drugs.

The Learn the Link public service campaign is just one example of how NIDA continues to respond to the HIV epidemic. More information about the link between HIV/AIDS and drug abuse is available at As we learn more about the critical connection between drug abuse and HIV/AIDS and the discovery of promising treatment interventions for breaking the harmful links between them, we will continue to update this Web site.


Nora D. Volkow, M.D.

* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention, Diagnoses of HIV Infection and AIDS in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2010, HIV Surveillance Report, Volume 22 ( Retrieved June 2012.
** Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV Surveillance in Adolescents and Young Adults, L265 Slide Series ( Atlanta, GA: CDC, DHHS. Retrieved June 2012.
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NIDA: National Institute on Drug Abuse The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the principal biomedical and behavioral research agency of the United States Government. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH: National Institutes of Health