Incarceration, addiction and harm reduction: inmates experience injecting drugs in prison

Subst Use Misuse. 2005;40(6):831-43. doi: 10.1081/ja-200030795.


Within Canadian prisons HIV/AIDS is becoming more common among inmates. While injection drug use in correctional facilities is documented to be a problem, qualitative research into the HIV risks faced by inmates is lacking. The goal of this research was to qualitatively examine HIV risk associated with injecting inside British Columbia prisons. A sample of 26 former male inmates who had recently used drugs within correctional facilities were recruited from a ongoing cohort study of injection drug users in Vancouver, Canada. Data for this study were collected through in-depth interviews conducted in 2001/2002. Analysis of these data involved identifying emergent themes and then exploring these central concepts in further interviews to confirm the accuracy of interpretation. The harms normally associated with drug addiction, and injection drug use are exacerbated in prison. Interpersonal relationships and the possession of exchangeable resources determine access to scarce syringes. The scarcity of syringes has resulted in patterns of sharing amongst large numbers of persons. Continual reuse of scarce syringes poses serious health hazards and bleach distribution is an inadequate solution. The findings of this study emphasize the need for effective harm reduction programs that provide an appropriate response to the problem of injection drug use among inmates.

MeSH terms

  • Anecdotes as Topic
  • Behavior, Addictive / prevention & control*
  • British Columbia / epidemiology
  • Harm Reduction*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Needles
  • Prisons*
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / epidemiology
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / prevention & control*