An estimated 13% of all people who inject drugs (PWID) are living with HIV. PWID are less likely to know their status than other groups and also face unequal access to HIV treatment and prevention. Researchers conclude that the criminalization of drug use has a negative effect on HIV prevention and treatment.
The conclusions resulted from a comprehensive review of published studies on the relationship between the criminalization of drug use and HIV prevention and treatment-related outcomes. Of 106 studies reviewed, 80% suggested that drug criminalization has a negative effect on HIV prevention and treatment. The authors found that various aspects of criminalization—including incarceration, street-level policing, drug paraphernalia laws and restrictions, etc.—negatively affect the health of PWID. Specifically, criminalization was associated with decreased availability of safe injection equipment, increased syringe sharing, and increased burden of HIV among PWID.
The findings support the need for public health strategies to address the harms of drug use rather than the punitive approach of criminalization.