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WPIC Receives Federal Stimulus Funding to Assess the Benefits of Counseling with HIV Screening

PITTSBURGH, March 15, 2010 – Does rapid HIV testing and counseling produce healthier results for those who test negative for the virus than testing alone? That’s the question that will be studied by researchers at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) of UPMC and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Program and Clinic, as part of a $12.3 million grant awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The grant is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Public health experts encourage everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 to be HIV tested. However, there currently is little scientific evidence to guide decisions on the benefit of providing prevention counseling for those who test negative for the disease.

“We are excited about participating in this study that has such significant public health implications. This study in the STD Program and Clinic at ACHD will provide important and timely data on the impact of HIV counseling in high-risk populations tested in health care settings,” said Antoine Douaihy, M.D., medical director of Addiction Medicine Services at WPIC, and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who will serve as the lead research investigator at the Pittsburgh site. “WPIC, in collaboration with ACHD, has been selected as one of the nine sites across the country to participate in this study under the leadership of Lisa Metsch, M.D., at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine along with Grant Colfax, M.D., at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.”

“This study will give us the opportunity to contribute to a better understanding of the role of counseling for all Allegheny County Health Department patients undergoing HIV screening and potentially improve care,” said Bruce Dixon, M.D., ACHD director.

The multi-center trial will study 5,000 patients at high risk for HIV infection. The sample size is large enough to allow meaningful analyses of various subgroups, including those classified by age, race, sexual orientation, gender and history of substance abuse. The study will evaluate the effect of routine counseling at screening on two primary outcomes: the incidence of sexually transmitted infections and acceptance of HIV testing. Researchers also will measure reduction of risky sexual behaviors and substance use during sex after six months, and cost-effectiveness of counseling and testing.

“This is a good example of how Recovery Act funding will not only advance knowledge in a high-priority area of public health, but also provide jobs to researchers,” said NIH director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “We need to know if counseling linked to testing will have an impact on reduction of risky behaviors and the diseases linked to those behaviors for persons who test HIV-negative.”

“NIH research previously showed the value of routine HIV screening in patients with or without elevated risk factors,” noted NIDA director Nora Volkow, M.D. “Now, we will leverage the infrastructure already in place through our Clinical Trials Network to address the issue of whether to provide counseling as part of that screening.”

This new research project resulted from the Appalachian Tri-State (ATS) Node’s successful collaboration in NIDA’s Clinical Trials Network HIV Rapid Testing and Counseling in Drug Abuse Treatment Programs in the U.S. protocol with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

The ATS Node is led by Dennis C. Daley, Ph.D., chief of Addiction Medicine Services at WPIC and the Regional Research and Training Center of NIDA’s Clinical Trials Network. Dorothy Sandstrom, M.S., ATS Node coordinator, will facilitate the ongoing collaboration between the WPIC research team and the ACHD in implementing the study, which will be conducted at the Health Department’s STD Program and Clinic.

About WPIC

Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) is considered to be one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities and one of the world’s leading centers for research and treatment of mental health disorders. WPIC houses the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and is the flagship of UPMC Behavioral Health, the psychiatric specialty division of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

About ACHD Sexually Transmitted Disease Program and Clinic

The Sexually Transmitted Disease Program of the Allegheny County Health Department is mandated by Pennsylvania law and serves as the focal point for control of sexually transmitted disease (STD) in Allegheny County. The clinic provides free and confidential examinations and treatment. Tests are routinely done for syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Other STD tests are performed depending on the patient’s symptoms. The clinic also offers Hep.B vaccinations to patients receiving a full STD exam. The clinic is run on a walk-in basis. HIV testing and counseling is available upon request to STD patients. The clinic offers many services including disease intervention, surveillance for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, screening for gonorrhea and chlamydia, social service and educational services, and outreach which includes street education, presentations and counseling services regarding STDs and HIV/AIDS.

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