HIV, drugs and the legal environment

Int J Drug Policy. 2015 Feb;26 Suppl 1(0 1):S27-32. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2014.09.001. Epub 2014 Sep 16.


A large body of scientific evidence indicates that policies based solely on law enforcement without taking into account public health and human rights considerations increase the health risks of people who inject drugs (PWIDs) and their communities. Although formal laws are an important component of the legal environment supporting harm reduction, it is the enforcement of the law that affects PWIDs' behavior and attitudes most acutely. This commentary focuses primarily on drug policies and policing practices that increase PWIDs' risk of acquiring HIV and viral hepatitis, and avenues for intervention. Policy and legal reforms that promote public health over the criminalization of drug use and PWID are urgently needed. This should include alternative regulatory frameworks for illicit drug possession and use. Changing legal norms and improving law enforcement responses to drug-related harms requires partnerships that are broader than the necessary bridges between criminal justice and public health sectors. HIV prevention efforts must partner with wider initiatives that seek to improve police professionalism, accountability, and transparency and boost the rule of law. Public health and criminal justice professionals can work synergistically to shift the legal environment away from one that exacerbates HIV risks to one that promotes safe and healthy communities.

Keywords: HIV; Harm reduction; Injection drug use; Law; Policing.

MeSH terms

  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / etiology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Harm Reduction*
  • Health Policy
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Law Enforcement
  • Police / standards
  • Public Health
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / complications*
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / epidemiology


  • Illicit Drugs