My Test, My Way – My contribution to Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.
Kristin Roha, MS, MPH, SAMHSA Public Health Advisor for HIV
On June 27th of each year, National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) reminds us of the importance of HIV testing and gives us the opportunity to share HIV testing resources. Getting tested for HIV is easy, fast, confidential, and safe, and is the first step in knowing your HIV status. For people who test positive for HIV, getting tested is the gateway to accessing lifesaving treatment. For people who test negative for HIV, getting tested can provide empowering information that can help make them decisions about sex, drug use, and health care. For people at risk for HIV, a negative test can also be the gateway to accessing powerful preventive tools, including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. People with mental illness and/or substance use disorder are at increased risk of getting HIV, and of passing the virus on to others. From SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), we know that the prevalence of mental illness is higher among people living with HIV than among the general population; mental illness is also is linked to behaviors that increase the likelihood of getting HIV. We also know that the prevalence of substance use is higher among people living with HIV than among the general population, and that substance use disorder – especially injection drug use – can increase the risk of getting HIV. For this reason, SAMHSA is a proud partner in the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, which aims to reduce new HIV infections in the U.S. by 90% by 2030.
Substance use disorder and mental healthcare practitioners like SAMHSA’s grant recipients and partner organizations serve on the front lines of the HIV epidemic and can play a vital role in ensuring people at risk for HIV receive an HIV test. SAMHSA has long encouraged substance use disorder and mental health treatment providers to integrate HIV testing into their routine standard of care, and we have made it a requirement for some of our grants. The CDC recommends that that people who inject drugs (PWID) and share needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment should get tested for HIV every year, but in 2018 only 55% of PWID had been tested for HIV in the past twelve months. This year on NHTD, SAMHSA again encourages all substance use disorder and mental health treatment providers to test new clients for HIV and hepatitis at intake.
The theme for this year’s NHTD is “My Test, My Way,” because today there are more HIV testing options available than ever before. This year the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people access healthcare, including HIV testing. Though many of SAMHSA’s grant recipients were able to remain open and offer in-person testing, others experimented with offering HIV self-tests via contactless pickup or through the mail. Now, though many facilities are open and able to offer HIV testing in person again, it’s important to seek testing in whatever way makes you feel the most comfortable. If you would like to receive an HIV test in person, you can find a testing provider through the CDC’s Get Tested website. Get Tested also has resources to help you find condoms and PrEP providers in your area. If you would prefer to get tested at home or at another preferred location, HIV self-tests can be used wherever you choose. Right now, many local health departments and community-based organizations, as well as the CDC, are distributing free HIV self-testing kits through a program funded in part by the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund. Finally, if you, or someone you know, is seeking help for substance use or mental illness, SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator can help you connect with treatment programs in your area.
Testing, including self-testing, is one of the many tools we have at our disposal for ending the HIV epidemic. We are closer to reaching this goal than we have ever been. SAMHSA would like to take this opportunity to thank our grant recipients and partner organizations for your perseverance and flexibility in ensuring that your clients were able to get tested for HIV over the past year. We would also like to encourage everyone at risk for HIV to take the opportunity provided by NHTD to get tested in a way that works best for you – whether it’s self-testing in your own space of finding a testing site nearby. Together we can contribute to ending the HIV epidemic, one HIV test at a time.