Law Enforcement Attempts To Stop Injection Drug Use Undermining HIV Control Efforts Among IDUs in Southeast Asia
Efforts by police to stop injection drug use are undermining attempts to curb the spread of HIV among injection drug users in Southeast Asia, law enforcement and health experts said Wednesday at the opening of a conference in Bangkok, Thailand, on reducing health risks for IDUs, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 10/24).
According to the Open Society Institute, which is sponsoring the conference, HIV is fueled by injection drug use in at least 20 countries in Asia and Eastern Europe (AP/Yahoo! News, 10/24). Daniel Wolfe, deputy director of OSI's International Harm Reduction Program, said that efforts to reduce the spread of HIV among IDUs "can only work if law enforcement understands" harm-reduction measures and "helps to enforce them" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 10/24).
IDUs often are forced to use dirty needles because they are harassed or arrested at needle-exchange centers and drug treatment clinics, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. According to Aditya Anugrah Putra, a human rights researcher at the Indonesian Drug Users' Network, police harass and extort IDUs at methadone clinics and needle-exchange centers throughout the country. Police "wait outside methadone clinics to search patients for drugs, and they arrest syringe exchange clients at will," Putra said (AP/Yahoo! News, 10/24). Precha Knokwan of the Thai Drug Users' Network added that police in Thailand often confuse IDUs and people who sell drugs, hindering efforts to provide treatment to IDUs (AFP/Yahoo! News, 10/24).
Wolfe said that the result of law enforcement arresting or harassing IDUs at needle-exchange centers and clinics is "increased HIV infections, missed treatment opportunities and lost lives" (AP/Yahoo! News, 10/24). According to experts, it has become more difficult to determine the number of IDUs in Southeast Asia because police have caused them to go underground. Some experts say that as many as 50% of IDUs in the region are HIV-positive (AFP/Yahoo! News, 10/24).