The US is in the midst of a major epidemic of opioid addiction and related co-morbidities. Persons with opioid use disorder (OUD) are at significant risk for transmission of several blood-borne pathogens including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Commonly abused opioids and their receptors promote viral replication and virus-mediated pathology. However, most studies demonstrating an adverse effect of drugs of abuse have been conducted in vitro, the specific effects of synthetic opioids on viral replication have been poorly characterized, and the evaluation of opioid-virus interactions in clinically relevant populations is rare. Rigorous characterization of the interactions among synthetic opioids, host cells, and common injection-associated viral infections will require an interdisciplinary research approach and translational studies conducted in humans. Such research promises to improve clinical management paradigms for difficult-to-treat populations, facilitate rational public health policies given severely strained resources, and reveal additional pathways for novel target-specific therapeutic interventions. This mini-review examines the published literature on the effects of opioids on HIV, HBV, and HCV pathogenesis and proposes a series of scientific questions and considerations to establish a translational research agenda focused on opioid-virus interactions.
Keywords: HIV, hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), drug use, opioid, pathogenesis
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