87 / 68
      83 / 62
      87 / 67

      Recovering 24-Year-Old heroin addict from Baldwinsville tests positive for HIV

      Matt Kowalczyk, 24 contracts HIV after battling heroin addiction.

      It's a story you've heard before. Matt Kowalczyk,24 turned to heroin after becoming addicted to prescription painkillers, but beating that addiction is the only the first step of a new, potentially-deadly battle Kowalczyk will fight the rest of his life.

      "In my mind I was thinking this is a death sentence. I'm pretty much going to die," says Kowalczyk.

      After some routine blood work, he learned he was HIV positive. He had contracted the virus through sharing needles while shooting up heroin.

      When it comes to HIV awareness, the biggest battle for health care professionals is denial and stigma. That's why ACR health offered free, confidential, rapid HIV testing Friday during National HIV testing day.

      One in six people with HIV don't know they're infected. As our country deals with a growing heroin crisis, ACR Director of Prevention Services, Erin Botel, says it's possible that number could increase.

      "It's definitely a concern that you might see a little bit of a spike of HIV in the next couple of years as we really face the heroin epidemic in our communities head on," says Bortel.

      The first and most important step is to get tested.

      "If you are infected you can stop it from spreading and if you're not you can keep yourself protected by engaging in safer sex practices," says Bortel.

      Even if you are infected, it's not the death sentence Kowalczyk originally imagined.

      "Once I got educated, I came to realize it's not like the 80s anymore. There's treatments and you can get to the point that it's undetectable. You can have kids," says Kowalczyk.

      With daily medication, Kowalczyk plans to live a full life, clean sober, and HIV positive.