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Surprising Science

How the Global War on Drugs Fuels HIV and AIDS

Many believe the war on drugs is counterproductive, and that it has lead to more cases of HIV—especially among needles users. 

Article written by guest writer Rin Mitchell

What’s the Latest Development?

It is the fear of being incarcerated that makes drug users hold onto dirty needles instead of turning them in for clean ones. “Since the 1990s, effective public-health strategies to curb HIV transmission in drug users have led to drops in new infections in most countries. But over the same time period, seven countries have seen a 25% increase in new infections.” The countries that have seen an increase are the countries that have strict drug laws where people are arrested and incarcerated for needle possession.  According to reports, infection rates fell when certain strategies were put into place, which allowed drug users to trade in their needles in exchange for helpby way of a methadone-maintenance program to help wean users off of their drug addiction. However in countries like Russia where methadone programs are banned, 37 percent of all “IV-drug users are HIV positivein spite of the fact that “the World Health Organization and other expert bodies that have examined the question scientifically have determined that maintenance is more effective than other treatments at reducing drug-related crime, death and the spread of blood-borne disease.” Another country stigmatized by the problem is the U.S., where “a longstanding federal ban on funding for needle exchange, which was briefly lifted in 2011, was reinstated this year.” Washington, D.C. maintains the highest HIV-infection rate in the country. 

What’s the Big Idea?

To force drug users into quitting through methods of arrest and incarceration have been proven to be counterproductive in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Instead of curbing the habit, drug users will hang on to dirty needlesraising the risk of HIV infectionthan to use a clean needle. “Researchers know what works to fight HIV, and they also know that it is far cheaper to prevent infection than it is to treat it. More than ever before, the evidence also reveals how best to combat addictionarresting users for needle or drug possession does not help.”


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