David Metzger, director of the HIV/AIDS Prevention Research Division at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues plan to launch a trial in China among injection drug users to determine if a drug that reduces the craving for heroin also can reduce the spread of HIV through the sharing of contaminated needles, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Metzger is participating in efforts to curb the spread of the virus in China's Xinjiang province, and the study will take place in the province's capital of Urumqi beginning in August.
For the trial, funded by NIH, researchers will recruit about 500 IDUs who are HIV-negative to determine the efficacy of Suboxone -- a heroin detoxification drug -- as a method to prevent the spread of HIV, the Inquirer reports. Although Suboxone is more expensive than methadone, it is easier to withdraw from physiologically, and the drug discourages abuse because it can cause painful side effects if injected. "If methadone isn't carefully monitored, people can overdose and die," Metzger said, adding that Suboxone "is a safer medicine to prescribe."
According to the Inquirer, the epidemic in Urumqi is "largely affecting" members of a group of low-income Muslims of Turkic descent known as the Uyghurs. Xiaoxing Fu -- an anthropologist at Renmin University and an expert in injection drug use in China and the Uyghur community -- said, "Uyghurs have a custom of sharing good things," including used needles, which has contributed to the spread of HIV. He added that poverty among the group also plays a role in drug abuse.
Metzger noted that "HIV in all regions of the world affects those who are most isolated from the mainstream community. That's why it's such an issue in the Uyghur community." He added that he hopes the new trial can make a difference. "If we can show that the use of [Suboxone], during a one-year treatment program, reduces risk behaviors and has a sustained effect on reducing HIV infection, that is our goal" (Quigley, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/26).