Searching for Rural Drug Prevention Strategies

The beauty of a Puerto Rican beach stands in stark contrast with what’s happening in rural areas. We’re finding Hepatitis C rates in Puerto Rico that are among the highest in the world. U.N.L. sociologist, Kirk Dumbrowski, studies transmission rates of Hepatitis C and HIV among injecting drug users in rural Puerto Rico. HIV rates stand at about 7% compared with 80% for Hepatitis C. Dumbrowski says, drug users have gotten the message about the dangers of sharing needles. Even though people aren’t sharing needles, therefore not getting HIV, they are sharing equipment, other kinds of equipment, that Hepatitis C can be transmitted through. The research is part of UNL’s minority disparities initiative, targeting understudied health issues. A social network analysis sheds light on the relationships leading to risky behavior. The outcome we’re hoping to achieve with this kind of project is to understand the transmission vectors and how human social systems are interacting with virus epidemiology to create infection patterns that we see, and how to change those and lower them. Insights gathered by Dumbrowski and his team could be used at home. In Nebraska, methamphetamine and opiate use is at its highest level ever. States like Iowa and Missouri are also seeing increases. These are all areas where injection drug use is happening, and we’re sweeping it under the rug. So, we feel like the future for bringing this message and creating specific forms of public health intervention specific to rural areas can start in Puerto Rico, but our interest is in bringing it back here where we feel like it’s really needed. Dumbrowski’s research is funded by a nearly $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. We really feel like we can make a difference in the rates of infection in rural areas. That’s a great job when you feel like you can make an important difference in ordinary lives.

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