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War on drugs ‘crippling’ overdose, HIV response: B.C. researcher

New study says literature overwhelmingly concludes criminalization of drugs puts more people at risk of HIV/AIDs and other harms.

People gather outside North America's first supervised injection site, Insite, located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., which opened in 2013.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

People gather outside North America's first supervised injection site, Insite, located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., which opened in 2013.

Criminalizing drugs has hurt efforts to respond to the global HIV epidemic and other harms associated with addiction, according to a British Columbia researcher.

Dr. Kora DeBeck, with the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and Simon Fraser University, published a joint study with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on Wednesday concluding that the vast majority of English, peer-reviewed science (80 per cent) available “suggested that drug criminalization has a negative effect on HIV prevention and treatment.”

Criminalization, she said, often results in higher rates of HIV/AIDS, restricts access to clean needles and syringes and prevents people from accessing treatment and health services.

“What we found was that very overwhelmingly, it was a very clear negative impact,” DeBeck told Metro.

With British Columbia struggling to get a handle on a growing opioid overdose crisis (which claimed 931 lives last year and 347 as of March 31 this year), the findings hit home for DeBeck.

“I think it speaks very clearly when a number of provincial health officers are saying we’ve tried to criminalize our way out of the opioid overdose problem and that hasn’t worked,” she said. “What we’re currently doing in terms of criminalization is having really devastating impacts and crippling our efforts to control HIV/AIDS and, now, what we’re seeing on the frontlines with the overdose epidemic.”

DeBeck’s study was published in the latest edition of the Lancet HIV journal.

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