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Drugs regulator approves methadone use to treat heroin addicts

Prevalence of HIV is high among drug users as they often share needles that are used to inject drugs into their bodies. PHOTO | FILE
Prevalence of HIV is high among drug users as they often share needles that are used to inject drugs into their bodies. PHOTO | FILE 

The Pharmacy and Poisons Board has approved the use of methadone for the rehabilitation of drug addicts in Kenya.

Methadone, a substitute drug for heroin and which has been used successfully in other countries, reduces withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to heroin or other narcotic drugs without causing the ‘high’ associated with drug addiction.

“This approval will boost efforts aimed at reducing HIV transmission among people who inject drugs,” said Dr Martin Sirengo, the National AIDS & STI Control Programme (Nascop) head.

He noted that the prevalence of HIV is high among drug users as they often share needles that are used to inject drugs into their bodies. “So, infected people can easily transmit the disease to others.”

Dr Sirengo added that once addicts become ‘high’ they lose control of their actions, thus engaging in risky sexual behaviour that further increases the spread of HIV.

People who inject drugs, sex workers, and men who have sex with men are considered as key populations in the fight against HIV/Aids in the country.

Government statistics indicate that of the 90,000 new HIV infections registered in the country annually, about 30,000 are from these key populations yet they only make up two per cent of the country’s general population.

“This is why we have to focus on them, to reduce infections,” said Dr Sirengo at the National Key Population Dissemination Forum held Thursday.

Even though methadone is already in the country, Dr Sirengo stated it is still to be administered to rehabilitate any drug addict. “We will begin rolling it out later this year.”

Nascop has identified four health facilities – one in Nairobi and three in the coastal region – where methadone will be used to treat addicts.

“We will use these areas as pilot sites, to learn more about methadone assisted therapy before we roll it out in other parts of the country,” stated Dr Sirengo.

He noted that they have already developed guidelines and trained targeted health workers on the effective administration of the drug.

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