$2.5 Million NIH Grant to Fund Mount Sinai Research Into Reducing Heroin Injection and HIV Infection

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded Don C. Des Jarlais, PhD, director of research at Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, a 2015 Avant-Garde Award. Des Jarlais, who is also a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, will receive a grant of $500,000 per year for five years to lead a HIV prevention study in two cities contending with growing heroin use — New York City and Tallinn, Estonia, in Eastern Europe.

The Avant-Garde Awards showcase potentially transformative ideas in HIV/AIDS research. Des Jarlais and his team will focus on combining several interventions proven to reduce the number of drug users who transition to injection drugs, including heroin. Globally, intravenous drug use remains a leading cause of HIV transmission. When Des Jarlais began his research at Beth Israel in the early 1980s, about 50 percent of injection drug users in New York City were HIV positive. Today, in part due to programs he helped pioneer, that figure has fallen to less than 10 percent.

“Large-scale, simultaneous implementation of multiple evidence-based programs has greatly reduced HIV transmission among persons who inject drugs,” said  Des Jarlais. “This project will apply a combined prevention approach to reduce initiation into injecting use. This approach should not only reduce transmission of bloodborne viruses like HIV, but also the many other harmful individual and societal consequences of injecting drug use.”

Des Jarlais’s research combines the following harm reduction programs:
• The Heroin Sniffer Project is a multi-session psycho-educational program aimed at reducing the likelihood that non-injecting drug users will transition into drug use;
• The Break the Cycle project uses motivational interviewing techniques to reduce current drug injectors from initiating others into injecting drug use;
• Low threshold substance use treatment provides short-term detoxification for persons with substance use problems without requiring a commitment to a long-term treatment plan;
• Couples-based HIV prevention is a series of counseling sessions for couples in which one person injects drugs, focusing on the interpersonal dynamics that often lead to both persons injecting drugs.

DDes Jarlais is a member of the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies of Columbia University and Center for Drug Use and HIV Research of New York University. The research team will include scientists from Mount Sinai Beth Israel, New York University, Columbia University and the University of Tartu in Estonia. Anneli Uuskula, MD, PhD, of the University of Tartu, will lead the Estonia component of the project.

Des Jarlais is recognized leader in the epidemiology of HIV transmission among injection drug users and has published more than 500 articles on these topics. He is also a pioneer in the evaluation of a variety of harm reduction interventions, particularly syringe exchange programs, and was instrumental in the development and expansion of these programs in New York City during the 1990s. In 1989, Des Jarlais was jointly appointed by the President and Congress to serve as a commissioner on the U.S. National Commission on AIDS from 1989 to 1993.

“This award is an important and well deserved honor for Dr. Des Jarlais, who has been tireless in his commitment to help patients with HIV/AIDS through innovative epidemiology research that has already proven to be beneficial in reducing the spread of HIV transmission,” says Yasmin Hurd, PhD, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, and director of the Center for Addictive Disorders at Mount Sinai Behavioral Health System. “This award also acknowledges the international nature of Dr. Des Jarlais’s work that has significant relevance to the global impact of HIV.”

Source: Mount Sinai Medical Center 

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