WASHINGTON – Drew Pinsky was a medical resident in the early 1980s when a friend asked him to do his first call-in radio show.
The term AIDS had just been introduced, the concept of “safe sex” had not yet been coined and the Internet was non-existent in American homes.
“Back then … they would call radio stations to try to get information,” said Pinsky, who was a guest on WTOP’s “Ask the Doctor” show on Thursday.
At his practice, Pinsky was telling patients daily they were going to die in six months. And as word of the terrifying new virus began to spread, young people began calling the radio show for answers.
“People were saying, ‘I think a condom might help, but I don’t know for sure,'” Drew says.
The medical community tackled the burgeoning epidemic with unprecedented speed. It took a mere 20 years to identify AIDS, create a diagnostic test and produce effective treatments. In addition, massive education efforts made for an informed populace.
“That’s unheard of in the history of medicine. It became a chronic illness from a life sentence. And I think it’s fallen into the background,” he says.
“Lo and behold, we now have CDC publishing data that shows that over half of the young people with HIV don’t know they have it.”
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report showing people between the ages of 13 and 24 make up more than a quarter of new HIV infections each year, and that 60 percent don’t know they’re infected.
“It is time to redouble our efforts,” Pinksy says. “Young people are more casual about it than they used to be, but they also understand it can be devastating.”
For his part, Pinsky has produced a documentary that follows three young people living with AIDS. “I’m Postive” airs at 7 p.m. on Saturday, which is also World AIDS Day. He feels that talking about the problem at the community level is the best way to change risky behavior in youths.
But others in the medical community feel more needs to be done. On Wednesday, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading AIDS researcher, told WTOP he believes mandatory HIV testing should be implemented.
“We should make testing for HIV absolutely routine part of medical care,” Fauci says. “Seventy two percent of the new infections among young people are attributed to male-to-male sexual conduct, and the stigma in society associated with that makes people want to stay below the radar and not go out and get tested.”
“People between 13 and 65 should be routinely tested when they go to the doctor for any other reason.”
“I am very circumspect about mandatory interventions for medical treatments and screening,” he says. “This new data that’s come out will be a call to action, I’m sure. So there will be wider-spread screening. To put a law on medical practice is always a bad idea.”
Both doctors agree the new numbers are sobering, and more needs to be done.
“Our message to the young people is use a condom every time, get tested and pay attention,” says Pinsky.
Dr. Drew Pinsky was a guest on WTOP’s “Ask the Doctor” show on Thursday. He addressed topics ranging from HIV, holiday stress and dealing with addiction. The full show can be heard on the right and below is a live blog.
The MTV special, “I’m Positive,” will air 7 p.m. Saturday on World AIDS Day. The documentary goes inside the lives of three young people from around the country who are living HIV positive.