Health and human rights concerns of drug users in detention in Guangxi Province, China

PLoS Med. 2008 Dec 9;5(12):e234. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050234.


Background: Although confinement in drug detoxification ("detox") and re-education through labor (RTL) centers is the most common form of treatment for drug dependence in China, little has been published about the experience of drug users in such settings. We conducted an assessment of the impact of detention on drug users' access to HIV prevention and treatment services and consequent threats to fundamental human rights protections.

Methods and findings: Chinese government HIV and anti-narcotics legislation and policy documents were reviewed, and in-depth and key informant interviews were conducted with 19 injection drug users (IDUs) and 20 government and nongovernmental organization officials in Nanning and Baise, Guangxi Province. Significant contradictions were found in HIV and antinarcotics policies, exemplified by the simultaneous expansion of community-based methadone maintenance therapy and the increasing number of drug users detained in detox and RTL center facilities. IDU study participants reported, on average, having used drugs for 14 y (range 8-23 y) and had been confined to detox four times (range one to eight times) and to RTL centers once (range zero to three times). IDUs expressed an intense fear of being recognized by the police and being detained, regardless of current drug use. Key informants and IDUs reported that routine HIV testing, without consent and without disclosure of the result, was the standard policy of detox and RTL center facilities, and that HIV-infected detainees were not routinely provided medical or drug dependency treatment, including antiretroviral therapy. IDUs received little or no information or means of HIV prevention, but reported numerous risk behaviors for HIV transmission while detained.

Conclusions: Legal and policy review, and interviews with recently detained IDUs and key informants in Guangxi Province, China, found evidence of anti-narcotics policies and practices that appear to violate human rights and imperil drug users' health.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Anti-HIV Agents / supply & distribution
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use
  • China / epidemiology
  • Drug Users / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Drug Users / psychology
  • Drug Users / statistics & numerical data*
  • Fear / physiology
  • HIV-1
  • Health Services Accessibility / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Status*
  • Human Rights / statistics & numerical data
  • Human Rights Abuses / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Human Rights Abuses / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medication Adherence / statistics & numerical data
  • Prisoners / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Prisoners / psychology
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prisons / organization & administration
  • Prisons / standards
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation


  • Anti-HIV Agents