Background: The behavior of police is an important factor in drug users' access to preventive and therapeutic health services. In China, opiate users must be registered and approved by police before accessing methadone maintenance treatment (MMT).
Methods: We conducted a literature review to identify studies reporting original data about the influence of Chinese drug policing activities on MMT access and outcomes. Searches were conducted in PubMed, the Law Journal Library of HeinOnline, the Social Science Citation Index and China Academic Journals of CNKI for empirical studies conducted in China and published in academic journals between 2005 and April 2012.
Results: The initial literature search retrieved 276 records, of which 85 were included in the review and 191 were excluded. The majority of the included papers were single-clinic observational studies. These studies reported that: (1) fear of incarceration deterred users from initiating and continuing MMT; (2) the rates of MMT referral by police were considerably lower than those by drug user peers and by community and the media; (3) police sending users to compulsory detoxification (DETOX) and reeducation through labor (RTL) centers contributed to higher rates of MMT patient dropout; (4) arrests in and around MMT clinics were not uncommon; (5) cooperation between local police and public health agencies was difficult to achieve; and (6) a limited number of trial programs were conducted to refer detainees in DETOX to MMT clinics after release, but the outcomes were not promising.
Conclusion: Reviewed studies report drug policing practices that appear to be impeding MMT access and reducing successful treatment outcomes. Research focusing on the nature, prevalence and severity of these effects is urgently needed. Health and public security officials in China should review and reform policies and practices of registering, monitoring, and incarcerating drug users.
Keywords: China; Literature review; Methadone maintenance treatment; Opiate users; Police.
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