The economic crisis could lead to a rise of drug-related HIV infections across Europe, public health officials warn.

With health services struggling to cope with reduced budgets, EMCDDA, the EU’s narcotics agency, reports that austerity measures that have been put forward to tackle Europe‘s economic crisis may cause a rise in drug-related HIV infections.

The budget cuts will squeeze European services to assist drug users. With the HIV epidemic among drug users continuing to pose a major health problem, this will be a critical concern.

“Across Europe drug services are under pressure, and HIV prevention is not always given the policy priority it once had,” said Wolfgang Gotz, director of the agency. “In some (EU) member states, we are witnessing an exceptional set of circumstances that create a perfect storm for causing the rapid spread of drug-related HIV infections within vulnerable communities.”

For instance, Greece, where hospitals had their budgets cut by 40 percent, has witnessed a 52 percent rise in the number of HIV infections among drug users. Also new infections were reported in Bulgaria, Estonia and Lithuania.

Gotz said Europe had made strong progress in recent years to prevent the spread of HIV among drug users, but there was a risk that could be reversed.

“The financial burden associated with regular cocaine use may make it a less attractive option in countries where austerity is now the order of the day,” said Gotz.

Drug injections are a major transmission route for a number of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. The government and the health authorities need to take a firm stand on this matter. Effective measures need to be taken to bring down the levels of drug abuse but the austerity measures could be a major hindrance.