WASHINGTON – Spotlighting the risky sexual behavior that often follows drug or alcohol use,federal health officials launched a campaign Tuesday aimed at teenagers and young adults – the segment of the U.S. population is contracting HIV at an alarmingly high rate.
“Many people end up having unprotected sex that they would not have otherwise had if they were not intoxicated,” said Nora D. Volkow,director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “One single mistake can make the difference and change your whole life.”
With Thursday marking World AIDS Day,health officials here and across the world are focusing attention on containing and treating HIV/AIDS.
More than a million Americans have HIV or AIDS,NIDA estimates,and people under 25 contract half of new HIV infections each year. Worldwide,40 million people are estimated to have HIV/AIDS,according health officials,and it is the leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 59.
NIDA's campaign,co-sponsored by several public health,minority and youth-oriented groups,is focused on American youth. It includes advertisements on mass transit,television commercials,postcards and a new Web site.
“If we want to stop this epidemic,which is devastating,we have to prevent it,” Volkow said.
The campaign leans heavily on student input,and organizers say they will be successful only to the extent that young people listen to their message.
Exemplifying the youth-oriented bent is a TV commercial featuring student actresses and actors from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts,a public high school here.
In the commercial,a girl tells a friend via text messages that a mutual friend has contracted HIV from unprotected sex following a night of smoking marijuana.
The text messages read: “She got high; She got stupid; and now she has HIV.”
Drug rights advocates said the campaign's claim that marijuana use leads to sexual promiscuity is incorrect.
“The only thing that's really in fear of being violated by someone smoking marijuana is a very salty or sweet product,” said Allen St. Pierre,executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
He argued there may be a correlation between the type of person who uses marijuana and engages in risky sex – but that marijuana does not cause risky sexual practices.
But Volkow said that drugs and alcohol do cause a change in behavior,and she cited a body of medical research. Often used by teenagers insecure about their peer relationships,drugs affect brain chemistry,impairing judgment and sometimes increasing sexual desire.
Ellington students at the press conference,some of whom were in the commercial,said the NIDA campaign wouldn't necessarily keep them from drinking or doing drugs. Rather,young people exposed to the campaign will be more careful to surround themselves with trusted,healthy friends,said Hope Rollins,18,an Ellington senior.
“HIV is so inconceivable,” she said,adding that as young people see more advertisements they will become more aware of how to protect themselves.
Volkow said minorities and women,who have disproportionately high HIV acquisition rates,need particular attention. In 2004,black and Hispanic women – who comprise a quarter of the U.S. female population – accounted for more than 80 percent of new AIDS cases,NIDA reports.
AIDS,or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome,is the active virus of HIV,or Human Immunodeficiency Virus. According to the London-based National AIDS Trust,HIV can be spread through four ways: unprotected sex; shared needles; blood transfusions or organ transplants; and birth or breastfeeding.
To learn more about the program,visit: http://hiv.drugabuse.gov/