New Report: Drug War is Fueling the Global HIV Pandemic
A group of world leaders known as The Global Commission on Drug Policy have released a new report condemning the drug war as as a failure requiring urgent, sweeping reform to slow the spread of HIV infection. The report pins aggressive drug law enforcement as the “main reason” for the HIV/AIDS epidemics in certain regions and examines the disastrous consequences of using a criminal justice approach to solve a public health problem. By pushing drug users into environments where the risk of contracting HIV is high, the drug war has created a "policy distortion" whereby "evidence-based addiction treatment and public health measures have been downplayed or ignored," the commission says. Rather than provide addicts with help, the drug war actually raises barriers to HIV treatment and prevention.
According to the report, 33 million people have HIV globally. An estimated 16 million people inject illegal drugs, and about 3 million of them are living with HIV. What’s more, 25 percent of HIV positive patients will be incarcerated, and disproportionate incarceration is a key reason why HIV/AIDS is higher among the African American population
The commission outlines “How the Drug War Fuels the HIV Pandemic” with these bullet points:
- Fear of arrest drives persons who use drugs underground, away from HIV testing and HIV prevention services and into high risk environments.
- Restrictions on provision of sterile syringes to drug users result in increased syringe sharing.
- Prohibitions or restrictions on opioid substitution therapy and other evidence-based treatment result in untreated addiction and avoidable HIV risk behavior.
- Conditions and lack of HIV prevention measures in prison lead to HIV outbreaks among incarcerated drug users.
- Disruptions of HIV antiretroviral therapy result in elevated HIV viral load and subsequent HIV transmission and increased antiretroviral resistance.
- Limited public funds are wasted on harmful and ineffective drug law enforcement efforts instead of being invested in proven HIV prevention strategies.
The Commission urges the United Nations to address these problems by decriminalizing drug use and adopting a public health approach to addiction. Solution-oriented, science-based reforms like clean needle exchanges, safe-injection sites, and doctor-administered addiction therapies are proven to reduce the rate of HIV infection, and are immediately necessary to disrupt the spread of HIV.