Christian Long

Elizabeth Pisani: Drugs, Sex, and AIDS…Lets Get Rational

In TED Talks on April 12, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Reflection by TAYLOR C.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Elizabeth Pisani:  Drugs, Sex, and AIDS…Lets Get Rational

Drugs, Sex, and AIDS:  more than likely among the top subjects talked about world wide.

When I first saw the title of this TED talk, I figured “Oh great, another person made a video telling young people not to have sex or take drugs because they will destroy the world” …or something of the sort. But I was completely taken by surprise when Ms. Pisani said “People do get HIV because they do stupid things, but most of them are doing stupid things for perfectly rational reasons.”

This is by far the most peculiar observation I have ever seen when dealing with such a subject.

Initially nothing seems rational when making such stupid decision such as using dirty needles, having unprotected sex, etc. But not once did I ask myself, “Why are these people doing these things?”

ADDICTION to drugs:  what causes it?

On a scientific level, drugs tap into the brain’s communication system (neurons/nerves) and disrupt the normal messaging system, and over stimulate the “reward circuit” of the brain. Some drugs, such as heroin and marijuana, have the chemical structure very similar to the neurotransmitters in our brains, which allow them to trick our brains into activating and sending abnormal messages. Other drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine cause the nerve cells to release excessively large abnormal amounts of neurotransmitters, and/or prevent the normal recycling process of the brains natural chemicals. This disruption is what causes the abnormal communication patterns. Then the real addiction takes place when the circuit system of the brain is flooded with dopamine, thus giving your entire body a seemingly supernatural rush of pleasure. If it feels good, what reason do you have not to do it again?

Ok, so we understand why they are addicted, but why do they still choose to share dirty needles? Why not just get new ones or use their own? The decision to do so seems rather easy for some one who is not suffering from chemical addiction to an illegal drug. But throw in the brain damage and fear of being arrested and things don’t seem nearly as simple. In many countries, such as Indonesia, “smackheads” are arrested if needles are found on their person, and are immediately thrown in jail. So many of them have to contemplate with “do I use my own needle now, or I could share a needle now and get a disease that’s going to possibly kill me 10 years from now, or I could use my own needle now and go to jail tomorrow.

While junkies think that it’s a really bad idea to expose themselves to HIV, they think it’s a much worse idea to spend the next year in jail. You see, there no safe decision for these people, but the end result is always the same.

Ms. Pisani then later brought up the point that there is no way to keep everyone from using drugs, but there is a way to keep them from spreading HIV to one another. Making needles illegal isn’t going to stop people from using illegal drugs (for obvious reasons), but it will cause them to share them. If they relieve the fear of arrest, people will begin to make more ‘rational’ decisions and instead of sharing, using their own needles. In-fact in all of the countries that decided to make needles legal there has been a significant drop in the amount of cases of HIV transmitted through drug use. Pretty amazing right. Something as simple as allowing a “smackhead” to use illegal drugs with legal needles could save so many lives. You would think places like New York City for example, would catch the memo.

SEX- Among the top ways to spread HIV, sex could possibly be the easiest ways to spread HIV yet the hardest to control.

Why?  Well because its legal.

Nobody is afraid of being convicted for doing it, and there is no law that says someone HIV+ can’t have sex with multiple partners while failing to mention their medical background. In her video Ms. Pisani explained that most HIV cases are found in the homosexual communities,in which on average each person has up to three different partners. Most are aware of ways to prevent exposing or being exposed to the virus, but they just simply choose not to take precaution. Many are also aware of the amazing HIV/AIDS treatments that are out there, and how they keep the the viral load in the blood stream so low that it becomes extremely difficult to actually contract the virus. But none usually take into consideration that simply forgetting to take your pill can make things extremely dangerous for their next partner.

To sum things up, Ms. Pisani explained that people will constantly make the many mistakes, but it is up to the governments/politicians to take action and use some common sense to prevent any more spread of this conquerable disease


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