For nearly a century, it's been known that drugs of abuse alter the immune system. Since the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, however, an explosion of data has given rise to a rapidly evolving area of research.

Investigators around the world have shown that such psychoactive drugs as heroin, morphine, cocaine, and marijuana affect both the neurophysiologic and immunologic systems. In recent years, researchers have produced strong experimental evidence that these drugs of abuse can have profound effects on the susceptibility to--and may be cofactors in the progression of--infectious diseases. These discoveries affect not just drug abusers, but also people who have been hospitalized and given morphine or similar pain-killing drugs for extended periods of time.

At a symposium held recently at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., several biomedical scientists--Herman Friedman and Thomas W. Klein...

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