West Virginia’s enduring, intertwined epidemics: Opioids and HIV

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Long before COVID-19 entered the picture, West Virginia had been battling two other major public health crises: opioids and HIV.

Dr. Sally Hodder, a leading infectious disease expert at West Virginia University, believes that despite the threat of COVID-19, the opioid and HIV epidemics should not be ignored. The two have become so intertwined in the Mountain State, that they must be treated together, she said.

“We cannot try to solve the opioid epidemic or our emerging HIV epidemic by combating them separately,” said Hodder, who serves as director of the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute and associate vice president for clinical and translational research at WVU. “Since they are both so interconnected, we have to look at this as one larger issue, and treat it as such.”

Hodder was recently published, along with WVU colleague and professor Judith Feinberg, in a Lancet series focused on the ongoing challenges to ending HIV. These challenges include racial, sexual and gender disparities; gaps in domestic HIV program funding; and a lack of access to treatment and prevention services. The Lancet is the world’s oldest peer-reviewed general medical journal.

Hodder and Feinberg noted that while West Virginia has a variety of barriers (economic hardships, limited access to healthcare and treatment services) to combating these intertwined epidemics, one of the biggest obstacles that must be addressed is stigma…

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