The preliminary findings of an HIV investigation in the Lawrence and Lowell area have found 129 new cases since 2015, largely tied to the opioid epidemic.
The report from state and federal investigators describes many factors fueling this geographic spike in HIV, including very cheap fentanyl in Lawrence, limited access to clean needles and HIV testing, and an emphasis on detoxing drug users rather than connecting them to medication assisted treatment.
State Assistant Public Health Commissioner Kevin Cranston says those issues must be addressed.
"But I think we also have to keep an eye on some of the other factors surrounding this epidemic like homelessness, which will complicate access to services, access to testing and access to health care," he said.
Some solutions are in the works. Lowell agreed last month to let the state open a needle exchange so drug users can stop sharing infected syringes. The Department of Public Health is also working with Lowell, Lawrence and other communities to expand access to HIV testing.
WBUR's Martha Bebinger contributed to this report.