Practices used in policing injection-drug users in Russia might contribute to HIV transmission and overdose mortality, a study by researchers from the BU schools of medicine and public health found.
The study, published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society and done in collaboration with St. Petersburg Pavlov State University, sought to examine the effect that police arrests had on the health outcomes of a group of HIV-positive people with longtime injection drug use.
Those who were arrested by police were more likely to share needles—increasing HIV transmission—and to overdose, according to the study. The research also found no indication that police arrests reduce drug use.
“We already know that addressing individual risk behaviors is important in reducing HIV transmission among people who use drugs, who are most at risk for HIV infection,” said lead author Dr. Karsten Lunze, a BUSM assistant professor of medicine. “Our study adds that drug laws and policies, and the way they are enforced, are also important to prevent the spread of HIV.”
By linking the impact of police tactics with health outcomes of injection-drug users, the researchers identified the need to create prevention programs for modifying individual behaviors, and to address policing practices as part of the HIV risk environment.
“Instead of arresting people who use drugs, there should be more of a focus on facilitating access to treatment,” said Dr. Jeffrey Samet, a professor of medicine and community health sciences at BUSM and BUSPH who also led the study. “Public health and public safety working together can help address the increasing problem of HIV among people who use drugs.”
Further research is needed to relate the study findings to the operational environment of law enforcement and to clarify how police interventions among injection drug users might improve the HIV risk environment, the researchers said.
Co-authors include Debbie Cheng, professor of biostatistics, and Emily Quinn of the BUSPH Data Coordinating Center