Reports of police misconduct and illegal drug enforcement tactics linked with health-related harms in Thailand
published on December 3, 2009
Bangkok / Vancouver – Research findings released today by the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG) and BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (Vancouver, Canada) suggest high rates of police misconduct and show that this abuse of power is linked to health-related harms among people who inject drugs (IDU) in Bangkok.
The study, published in the journal BMC International Health and Human Rights, found that 48% of the 252 IDU surveyed reported that police had at some time planted illicit drugs on them. This form of drug planting was found to be associated with numerous health-related harms including syringe sharing and drug-related overdose. Further, half of those IDU who reported having had drugs planted on them by police said they paid a bribe in order to avoid the arrest.
The average amount of money paid to police was 5000 Thai Baht (or $140 US dollars). The authors of the study suggest that this form of police misconduct may be occurring partly because police are working to meet drug user arrest quotas set by governments within Thailand. Study findings indicate that IDU who reported having drugs planted on them by police were twice as likely to report having been in government-run compulsory drug treatment programs.
“This form of abuse of power by police has many dangerous consequences,” said Paisan Suwannawong, one of the investigators and Executive Director of Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG), an organization that runs Mitsampan Harm Reduction Center where the research was conducted. “Our research findings reflect what those of us with direct experience know all too well: injectors will lend and re-use dirty needles, and risk overdosing, when rushing injections in an effort to avoid police. Also, these punitive tactics used by police may discourage IDU from accessing much needed HIV prevention and treatment services.”
The study’s authors also recommend that urgent action be taken to address any abuse of power exerted by police against drug users in Thailand, as well as a re-tooling of Thailand’s drug policies away from “one of excessive reliance on enforcement to a health-focused approach, such as through improving access to voluntary and confidential drug treatment centers instead of forced centers.”
Dr. Thomas Kerr, Director of the Urban Health Research Initiative of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the study’s principal investigator, said, “Thailand should act quickly to address the problem of police abuse and its effects on national efforts to address HIV/AIDS. People who use drugs, like all people, have a right to be healthy but our study makes it clear that in the present environment, where forced drug treatment and other punitive, repressive and illegal acts are committed against them, it is quite impossible.”
For a full copy of the study or interview requests, please contact Paisan Suwannawong, TTAG (in US) phone: +1-646-335-7983, email: [email protected]; Kamon Uppakaew, TTAG (for Thai language) phone: +66-2-939-6434, email: [email protected]; or Ian Noble, media relations, BC-CfE (Vancouver) phone:+1-604-623-3007, e-mail: [email protected].
The Mitsampan Community Research Project is a collaborative research project involving the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG)(Bangkok, Thailand), the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (Vancouver, Canada)/University of British Columbia (Division of AIDS), and the Social Pharmacy Unit of Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok, Thailand). The study was undertaken at the Mitsampan Harm Reduction Center in Bangkok with support from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. The initial phase of the study, undertaken in the summer of 2008, involved surveying 252 people who inject drugs in Bangkok. The study is unique within Thailand due to the fact that the study participants were recruited from the community rather than through treatment or detention facilities.
About the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group:
TTAG was founded in 2002 by Paisan Suwannawong, former founding chairman of the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (TNP+). HIV-positive for 15 years, Paisan is also a former injecting drug user and one of the founders of the Thai Drug Users’ Network (TDN). TTAG is one of Thailand’s only PLWHA-run advocacy organizations, working at the grassroots and policy levels to promote the rights and voices of people living with HIV/AIDS. The mission of TTAG is to promote equal access to AIDS treatment for all through policy advocacy, coalition-building, and strengthening the capacity of people living with or highly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS to advocate for their human rights.
About the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS:
The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) is Canada’s largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility. The BC-CfE is based at St Paul’s Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. The BC-CfE is dedicated to improving the health of British Columbians with HIV through developing, monitoring and disseminating comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related diseases.
About the Urban Health Research Initiative:
The Urban Health Research Initiative (UHRI) was established in 2007 as a program of the BC-CfE at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, Canada. UHRI’s mission is to improve the health of individuals and communities through research to inform policy. UHRI research programs are based on a network of studies that have been developed to help identify and understand the many factors that affect the health of urban populations, with a focus on substance use, infectious diseases, the urban environment and homelessness.