Drug Arrests and Injection Drug Deterrence
The old mantra that goes something along the lines of ‘good research often serves to tell us what we instinctively already know’ still holds true as a new piece of research emerges. One of the worlds leading researchers on drug culture Sam Friedman (in collaboration – see below) has produced a piece of research that clearly shows how increased, heavy handed policing methods have no direct correlation with lower levels of injection drug use. Indeed he shows that something a lot more practical, like employment, does appear to reduce IDU levels.
“Deterrence-based approaches to reducing drug use seem not to reduce IDU prevalence. Alternative approaches such as harm reduction, which prevents HIV transmission and increases referrals to treatment, may be a foundation for better policy”
Definitely a piece of research that is worth quoting again – and although this document is very academic, a lay person can still pull out the important details – this is an essential piece of research to provide yet more ammunition for drug policy reform.
Sam Friedman discusses with INPUD, his paper, in layman’s terms!
The article is written in the language of public health scholarship. This means that it is written with a great deal of attention to statistical and methodological detail. It also means that it is hard for most people to read.
So let me say here what we did and found in language closer to what people speak. We figured, some of the people who justify the War on Drugs say that it is useful because it reduces the amount of drug use and drug injection in the community. They would argue that it does this in two ways:
Some people get arrested and spend time in jail or prison. This removes them from the streets and their homes, so they are not using drugs out where the other citizens will see them.
In addition, arresting people for heroin or cocaine use puts them through lots of unpleasantness and often messes up their lives for years. This, these drug warriors figure, is a good thing, because it will scare other people out of using drugs and might even scare the folks who get arrested into stopping their drug use.
We wanted to see if that is true. (We have already published evidence that metropolitan areas with high drug arrests rates tend to have higher rates of HIV among people who inject drugs.
We do this by seeing if the metropolitan areas where arrests have increased the most are characterized by having faster rates of decline in the proportion of adults who inject drugs. (We can do this because in an earlier paper, we estimated how many injectors they had in each of 11 years.) This, after all, is the “bottom line” for this part of the drug warriors’ argument: If they are correct, then all those arrests will either be scaring people straight or removing them, so the numbers will go down.
Simply put, we show that the argument they make is wrong. Metropolitan areas do vary in the extent to which people inject drugs, and in how this changes over time—but the extent to which they are arresting drug users has nothing to do with what happens.
So what this article and our earlier articles show is that arresting drug users does no “good” (if you think that reducing the numbers of people who inject drugs is a good thing. Give the effects of drug injection on diseases and overdoses—given the rest of what society and the laws are like—I myself wish fewer people were using the needle. Too many friends have died…)
They also show that arresting people may be increasing the spread of HIV (and probably other) diseases.
So, it does a lot of harm to health (and mucks up peoples’ lives by arresting and imprisoning them or their friends or family members) and does not even deliver what the powers that be claim they want.
Drug Arrests and Injection Drug Deterrence – Research by: Samuel R. Friedman 1*, Enrique R. Pouget 1, Sudip Chatterjee 1, Charles M. Cleland 1, Barbara Tempalski 2, Joanne E. Brady 3, Hannah L.F. Cooper 4