Global report claims war on drugs is driving spread of HIV

Global report claims war on drugs is driving spread of HIV

Canada must embrace a public health approach to drug addiction rather than treating it as a criminal justice issue in order to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS among drug users, says a Canadian adviser for a new global report.

The report, released Monday by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, condemned the worldwide war on drugs as a "remarkable failure" and claimed it is driving the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS among drug users and their sexual partners.

The emphasis on law enforcement has not achieved its stated objectives in terms of reducing the availability or rates of drug use, said British Columbia's Dr. Evan Wood, founder of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and an adviser on the report.

Those who suffer from drug addiction are stigmatized and treated as criminals, Wood said.

"I think we'll look back on that and see how foolish that was, and how that really created many more problems than anything else," Wood said.

"It is simply not sustainable to continue the current road that we're on."

Globally, fear of arrest drives those who use drugs underground and into high-risk environments, the report said. Conditions and lack of prevention measures in prisons lead to HIV outbreaks among drug users behind bars, it argues, adding that public funds are used for drug enforcement efforts when they could be invested in proven HIV prevention strategies.

Incarceration has been identified as a risk factor for contracting HIV in Canada, the report noted. And a 2011 Canadian study has shown that the greater the number of times that an HIV-infected person is incarcerated, the less likely that person is to adhere to antiretroviral therapy.

"To have people cycling in and out of prisons has very serious implications for public health," Wood said.

An estimated 65,000 people in Canada were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2008, according to the most recent figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Of those, 17 per cent were infected through their use of injection drugs.

Injection drug use is the main HIV exposure category among aboriginal people in Canada, the agency noted.

British Columbia, which is highlighted in the report for its public health approach to injection drug users and HIV, is the only jurisdiction in Canada where both rates of new HIV infections and AIDS deaths among drug users are declining, Wood said.

This is due in part to such programs as methadone paired with antiretroviral therapy, syringe exchanges, Vancouver's Insite supervised injecting site, and a heroin prescription trial that's still ongoing, Wood said.

"From a public heath perspective, when you look across Canada, B.C, has done something different and has really driven down the public health consequences of drug use," Wood said.

While a decision last fall by the Supreme Court of Canada opened the door for more supervised injection sites, Vancouver's Insite is still the only legal supervised drug injection clinic in North America.

The report made several recommendations, including pushing national governments to stop imprisoning people who use drugs but don't cause harm to others, and replacing these measures with evidence-based interventions such as safe injection sites and prescription heroin programs.

"Across Canada, and including in British Columbia, evidence-based forms of addiction treatment need to be dramatically scaled up," Wood said.

Worldwide, injection drug use accounts for about one-third of new HIV infections outside sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report. Of the estimated 16-million people who inject illegal drugs around the world, about 3 million are living with HIV.

The worldwide supply of illicit opiates such as heroin has increased more than 380 per cent over the past 30 years, the report said.

Global report claims war on drugs is driving spread of HIV
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No surprise there.
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Everyone knows that it is caused by Global Climate Disruption.


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