BANGKOK – Methamphetamine use in south-east Asia fuelling rise in HIV risk, report reveals ‘Urgent’ action called for as fears grow over users injecting drugs and engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour.
Increased use of amphetamine-type substances in south-east Asia has led to higher risks of contracting HIV and other blood-borne viruses, a report has revealed, calling for “urgent” action to be taken across the region.
While most amphetamine-type substances (ATS) are taken orally, there is increasing concern about the proportion of people who inject, said the report from the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) and the Asia-Pacific Drugs and Development Issues Committee.
The study examined ATS usage in 11 south-east Asian nations
The risk of HIV increases in people not only because they inject drugs, but also because of high-risk sexual behaviour – more common among ATS users. At greater risk were young people, sex workers and men who have sex with men.
The report also highlighted the major effect ATS usage had on children’s health, and education and employment opportunities.
“The effects of amphetamine-type stimulant use on young people cannot be underestimated,” ANCD chairman Dr John Herron told Australian Associated Press.
“Drug use may negatively impact on schooling and employment opportunities and contribute to risky behaviour – especially risky sexual behaviour amongst young people.”
ATS are the second-most used recreational drug worldwide. Usage has stabilised globally, but has grown in some countries, particularly in south-east Asia where the manufacturing has also increased.
From 1999 to 2009 the number of reported clandestine drug labs in south-east Asia more than doubled to 700. The report suggested there were at least 12 large-scale drug manufacturing operations in the “golden triangle” area where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet.
The increase in illicit drug use has been influenced by a number of factors, including growing wealth inequality, population displacement, political upheaval and corruption among ruling elites “leading to poverty and political disenfranchisement”, the report found.
ATS users were also more likely to share and borrow needles than heroin users.
Criminal penalties for drug use and cloudy legalities surrounding needle distribution was also found to be a factor in people engaging in dangerous drug usage.
“Although many south-east Asian countries are now supportive of harm reduction as a response to reducing drug-related harm, it remains in the early stages, with legislative and cultural ambiguities and conflicts,” said the report.