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17 November 2017, 13:44
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New reviews show the negative impact of the current drug laws

New reviews show the negative impact of the current drug laws - picture 1

A team of researchers launched two ground-breaking new global reviews: one looking at the prevalence of injecting drug use and various sociodemographic factors, and the other estimating the global, regional and national coverage of harm reduction services. Both papers have been published in The Lancet and presented at the Lisbon Addictions Conference in October 2017, IDPC reports.

After considering tens of thousands of articles, sources and datasets, the headline figures include:

  • Evidence of injecting drug use found in 179 countries (31 more than in 2008);
  • A new global estimate of 15.6 million people who use drugs (range: 10.2 – 23.7 million);
  • An estimated 18% of people who use drugs are living with HIV – with prevalence as high as 25% in Eastern Europe, and 36% in Latin America;
  • More than 50% of people who use drugs globally are living with hepatitis C – and in Eastern Europe this affects two third of people who use drugs;
  • Needle and syringe programmes were available in 93 countries: but with low coverage in most cases;
  • Around 16% of people who inject drugs are receiving opioid substitution therapy;
  • 60% of people who inject drugs reported being arrested in the past.

The numbers – and particularly the coverage data – are a stark reminder of the continuing funding gap for harm reduction services, despite their increasing acceptance around the world.

Crucially, the research also estimated the global rates of incarceration and arrest of people who inject drugs – identified as two of the main risk factors and “structural barriers” for this population. A staggering 60% of people who inject drugs reported being arrested in the past (equating to more than 9 million people). Arrest rates were higher than 90% in the Americas. These data show the negative impact that current drug laws are having on this population. As the authors note:

“Prisons often have limited or no health-care services, an issue of importance given that risk of drug withdrawal, suicide, and overdose following prolonged abstinence can all be elevated in that environment”.

The global estimates for injecting drug use are also notable for being significantly higher than the UNODC data from their World Drug Report 2017 (which reports an estimated 11.8 million people who inject drugs, and a HIV prevalence of 13.1%). This demonstrates the value and need for independent scientific analysis on these issues.

Author: Ivan Shangin

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