HIV ECHO Experts Address Care
Concerns, Challenges, Solutions

Higgins

On May 27, a group of health care professionals across diverse specialties and areas of expertise gathered online with a common goal in mind — to gain knowledge about HIV care and prevention. In the Missouri Telehealth Network’s latest HIV ECHO session, attendees had an opportunity to learn about how substance use interacts with HIV-positive status.

The session’s main didactic, titled “Substance Use and HIV,” was presented by Stacey Higgins, a licensed professional counselor at Washington University who works with HIV-positive youth and adolescents. Her presentation tackled several topics on HIV status and substance use: trends and red flags, treatment options and ways providers can best support patients who are dealing with these issues.

“There’s kind of this thought, among so many of our youth that I’ve worked with, that HIV is the worst thing that could happen to them,” Higgins said in her presentation. “They feel like if their provider believes that as well, then the only thing that can numb it is substance usage.”

Higgins emphasized that providers have a role to play in shifting patients’ mindsets. This is especially necessary given that substance abuse is frequently associated with negative outcomes for HIV patient treatment, medication adherence and disease progression.

It is not always easy — for HIV-positive patients or their providers — to work through substance abuse struggles. So, how can providers best support their patients? Higgins offered several solutions in her presentation. For example, providing a supportive, non-judgmental environment is difficult, but paramount. It is also critical for patients to have the right resources for success. Health care professionals can offer their expertise by providing treatment options, referring patients to mental health services and utilizing case management and peer support.

The bottom line, Higgins acknowledged, is that substance abuse can be particularly damaging to HIV patients’ health outcomes. Providers are uniquely situated to reach their patients with the right tools and shift the mindset that substance use is the only way to cope with an HIV diagnosis.

HIV ECHO sessions will be on pause in June 2021 as the HUB team meets to discuss, develop and refine curriculum for future sessions. Updates on the ECHO will be provided via email to those who have already signed up or attended a previous session. To learn more about the HIV ECHO or register for future sessions, visit https://showmeecho.org/clinics/hiv/.