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Health experts
question link between meth and HIV

Health experts
question link between meth and HIV

Health officials in Toronto this week questioned the widely held theory that crystal methamphetamine use boosts HIV infection risks among users, saying there is no evidence yet that users are more likely to engage in risky sex than nonusers, the Toronto Star reports. As a result the city has yet to launch a crystal meth awareness campaign or to target meth users, particularly gay men, with messages reinforcing safer-sex practices.

City associate medical officer Rita Shahin says that although the number of new HIV cases reported in Toronto increased by about 50% in 2002, the number of new cases fell slightly in 2004 at the same time crystal meth use was reported to be dramatically increasing. "The jury is still out as to whether crystal meth is leading to riskier behavior than other drugs," Shahin told the Star.

John Maxwell of the AIDS Committee of Toronto also says there's not enough evidence yet to link meth use to HIV risks, nothing that research conducted in Vancouver, Canada, showed young gay men who used meth were no more likely to have risky sex than gay men using other drugs. "There's not been enough studies of crystal use among gay men," Maxwell told the Star. "Maybe we're being overly cautious, but we want to make sure we know what's going on in our city."

U.S. health officials blasted the Toronto health officials, saying their research shows gay men who use meth are significantly more likely to have unprotected sex, often with multiple partners, than men who use other drugs or nonusers. Jeffrey Klausner, director of sexually transmitted disease prevention for San Francisco's health department, told the Star that the Toronto officials are "burying their heads in the sand. They need to just look around to every major urban area in the U.S., from San Francisco to Atlanta to Miami to Los Angeles, and the direct effects meth has had on continued transmission of HIV. I think it's extremely unlikely Toronto would be shielded from those effects."

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