Syringe access, syringe sharing, and police encounters among people who inject drugs in New York City: a community-level perspective

Int J Drug Policy. 2014 Jan;25(1):105-11. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2013.06.005. Epub 2013 Aug 2.


Background: Injection drug user (IDU) experience and perceptions of police practices may alter syringe exchange program (SEP) use or influence risky behaviour. Previously, no community-level data had been collected to identify the prevalence or correlates of police encounters reported by IDUs in the United States.

Methods: New York City IDUs recruited through respondent-driven sampling were asked about past-year police encounters and risk behaviours, as part of the National HIV Behavioural Surveillance study. Data were analysed using multiple logistic regression.

Results: A majority (52%) of respondents (n=514) reported being stopped by police officers; 10% reported syringe confiscation. In multivariate modelling, IDUs reporting police stops were less likely to use SEPs consistently (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]=0.59; 95% confidence interval [CI]=0.40-0.89), and IDUs who had syringes confiscated may have been more likely to share syringes (AOR=1.76; 95% CI=0.90-3.44), though the finding did not reach statistical significance.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that police encounters may influence consistent SEP use. The frequency of IDU-police encounters highlights the importance of including contextual and structural measures in infectious disease risk surveillance, and the need to develop approaches harmonizing structural policing and public health.

Keywords: Barriers; Injection drug use; Policing; Public health surveillance; Structural factors; Syringe exchange programs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needle Sharing / psychology*
  • Needle Sharing / statistics & numerical data
  • Needle-Exchange Programs
  • New York City
  • Police / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk-Taking
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / psychology*
  • Young Adult