Study suggests drug criminalization undermining global HIV efforts

published on May 16, 2017 in SFU

The criminalization of drugs is a leading factor in the world’s HIV epidemic and a potential barrier to eradicating HIV/AIDS, say researchers who’ve undertaken a sweeping review of research on laws and policies prohibiting drug use.

Assistant professor Kora DeBeck of SFU’s School of Public Policy, who is a research scientist with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, co-led the study with Stefan Baral, an associate professor of epidemiology at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The pair analysed 106 peer-reviewed studies published between January 2006 and December 2014. They found the vast majority of studies consistently show that drug criminalization has a harmful effect on HIV prevention and treatment.

Their findings, published in The Lancet this week, suggest that the effects of criminalization, including incarceration, street level policing, and drug paraphernalia laws and practices, negatively affected health outcomes for people who inject drugs due to decreased needle and syringe distribution, increased syringe sharing, and an increased burden of HIV.

“This provides an objective evidence base that the so-called global ‘War on Drugs’ is failing our communities,” says DeBeck. “The unintended consequences of drug prohibition are astronomical and crippling our ability to prevent and respond to HIV/AIDS among other well-documented harms.”

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