Occasional heroin use by HIV-positive patients may be harmful to the immune system and worsen HIV disease, compared to persistent or no heroin use, thus, suggesting that heroin withdrawal may be particularly harmful to the immune system, according to researchers at Yale and Boston University and their Russian collaborators. Intermittent heroin abuse in HIV- positive patients lead to lower CD4 cell counts, indicating a weakened immune system.
A higher CD4 cell count signals a stronger immune system. E. Jennifer Edelman and her co-authors were interested in whether heroin use impacted HIV disease progression. 77 HIV-infected Russian participants who drank alcohol heavily, and who were not yet taking antiretroviral medication were part of the study. The research team looked at changes in CD4 count at the beginning and at the end of 12 months and found lower CD4 counts in the participants who intermittently used heroin than in those who consistently abused the drug.
Edelman said, "Our future analyses will include examining other markers of T cell (CD4 and CD8 cell) dysfunction. We will also evaluate the effects of heroin and other opioids on other aspects of immune function."