Is the ‘War On Drugs’ Fueling the AIDS Crisis?

August 27, 2012

The question being debated by many as leaders from around the world gathered at the 2012 International AIDS Conference was whether the United States’ “war on drugs,” and that of other countries who have followed our lead, is threatening the work to fight the spread of AIDS. Presently, 33 million people around the globe are living with a diagnosis of HIV or AIDS. Many experts believe continuing to classify drug use (but not manufacturing or distribution of narcotics) as a criminal act escalates the risk of spreading HIV infection.

What Does Criminalizing Drugs Have to Do With HIV Infection?

International research is mounting that criminal punishment for those with substance abuse issues has the following consequences on society and the potential for HIV infection:

  • Drives drug use underground and causes users to feel safe seeking out public health options to reduce harm such as HIV infection
  • Resulting prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders often means living in overcrowded, unsanitary, and/or inhumane settings without proper HIV prevention or treatment.
  • More prisoners who do not receive effective drug rehab and become infected or allow their HIV to progress without treatment are primed to spread the disease to others when they are released.

On the other hand, needle exchange programs that swap used syringes for clean new ones have proven to be one of the best strategies for reducing the number of HIV infections, and they are also highly cost effective. Needle exchange programs generally offer other services that can help reduce addiction and the spread of AIDS as well, including:

  • Links to the general health care system
  • Access to information and connection to addiction treatment programs
  • Decrease in the global use of drugs
  • Decrease in costs to taxpayers

Drug War Policies Keeps IV Drug Use a High Proportion of New HIV Infections

Studies estimate that approximately 33 percent of new HIV cases are caused by IV drug use and the impacts of individual nations’ drug policies on these statistics are starting to be understood. The total new HIV cases have been practically eradicated in the following countries that handle substance abuse as a mental health problem rather than a criminal one:

  • Australia
  • Portugal
  • Switzerland

Brazil also made significant strides in their number of HIV cases associated with drug use once they implemented needle exchange programs and other harm reduction techniques; the number of new AIDS cases due to IV drugs went from 28 percent down to 10 percent.

In stark contrast, the United States, China and Thailand with criminal drug policies have seen the same or increased rates of HIV. And Russia’s HIV epidemic, fueled in large part by IV drug use, has increased by four times in the last 10 years; now, 1 percent of the population is infected under the government’s criminal drug use laws.

Does someone you love use needles to shoot heroin, cocaine, crystal meth or other substances? Drug addiction treatment can help them limit their risk of contracting HIV by helping them stop drug abuse today. Call us here at Michael’s House today to begin the detox and therapeutic recovery process.

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