The sale of sex for drug money is an important but largely overlooked reason why Baltimore has the nation’s second-highest rate of AIDS diagnoses, trailing only Miami, reports the Baltimore Sun. By the end of last year, almost 16,000 Baltimore residents were living with HIV or AIDS. Women desperate for their next fix and men willing to risk their health for cheap sex are partners in an epidemic that shows no signs of ending. Experts consider prostitutes to be “core transmitters” because of their high infection rates and large numbers of partners.
Therapeutic advances have prolonged life while education has lowered the overall HIV infection rate. Still, the death toll from AIDS continues to mount, reaching almost 9,800 in Baltimore since the epidemic began in the early 1980s. The disease has devastated families, leaving children without parents and often killing multiple relatives. Public health authorities have been slow to address the connection between AIDS and “survival sex.” The people involved are elusive and their role hard to quantify. Most of the women have been addicted to drugs and, in some cases, ensnared in prostitution since childhood. Many are homeless, wandering from one abandoned building to another. A key part of the sex trade is crack cocaine. The drug produces an intense high followed quickly by a crushing depression that can be relieved only by smoking more. Crack, a major presence in Baltimore since the early 1990s, drives many female addicts into a cycle of drug-seeking and prostitution. “They have a lot of partners to sustain their habits,” said Dr. Jacques Normand of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “There is no question in this country that there’s a substantial epidemiological relationship between crack and HIV transmission. It all comes down to the trading of sex and drugs.”