A new study has suggested that men who use crystal methamphetamine while having sex with other men, are at a greater risk of transmitting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
Methampehtamine, or "meth," is a highly addictive stimulant that has been found to weaken judgment, decrease inhibition, increase impulsivity and enhance sexual sensitivity - all of which can increase the potential for transmitting HIV.
Researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and colleagues examined 1,189 meth using MSMs, with a mean age of 29 years.
The study authors found that participants who reported using methamphetamines were more likely to report inconsistent condom use during anal sex within the past three months, a history of STD infection, being HIV-positive and using medications designed to treat erectile dysfunction.
"Until now, there has been little data on meth use in the Southeast. Our findings, including that meth users were more likely to be HIV-positive, suggest that prevention, intervention and treatment efforts are urgently needed," said lead author Scott D. Rhodes, Ph.D. M.P.H., associate professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy.
Rhodes noted that some of the men reported having sex with both men and women, which means the risk of HIV extends to both sexes.
"The findings underscore the need for further research and intervention. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is clearly not over. We must develop innovative intervention approaches designed to reach communities at highest risk," Rhodes said.
"Men who have sex with men, whether or not they identify themselves as gay, who use drugs like methamphetamines are clearly at higher risk. Yet currently nothing is being done in the Southeast," he added.
In addition to being more inclined to risky sexual behaviors, the study participants who said they used methamphetamines were also more likely to report having higher education and health insurance coverage.
"Because users of methamphetamines were more likely to have higher educational levels and report having health insurance, we must change the way we think about meth users and develop sophisticated prevention strategies that are appropriate for these types of users," said Rhodes.
"In addition, the link between meth use and the use of drugs for sexual dysfunction among a young population deserves attention. Meth use in combination with one of these medications may be having an even more profound impact on the HIV and STD disease epidemics in the South," he added.
The study's results will be published in AIDS Patient Care and STDs, a leading AIDS journal that provides the latest research for clinicians and researchers.