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, is co-lead of the study, published in The Lancet.

Together with co-lead 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. The vast majority of studies show with consistency that drug criminalization has a harmful effect on HIV prevention and treatment.

The researchers found 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 Prof. DeBeck, who can provide further details on the study. "The unintended consequences of drug prohibition are astronomical and crippling our ability to prevent and respond to HIV/AIDS among other well-documented harms."

Why it Matters: An estimated 8.4- to 19 million individuals globally inject psychoactive drugs. The public health concerns associated with the use of injection drugs include the spread of infectious disease including HIV. About 13 per cent of people who inject drugs are thought to be living with HIV, which amounts to roughly 1.7 million people.

Article: HIV and the criminalisation of drug use among people who inject drugs: a systematic review, Kora DeBeck, PhD, Tessa Cheng, MPP, Julio S Montaner, MD, Chris Beyrer, MD, Richard Elliott, LLM, Susan Sherman, PhD, Evan Wood, MD, Dr Stefan Baral, MD, The Lancet, doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30073-5, published 14 May 2017.