Pubdate: Fri, 10 Oct 2008
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2008 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andre Picard
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


Injection-drug users who are incarcerated are less likely to kick
their habit than those who remain in the community, new Canadian
research shows.

In fact, there is strong evidence that addicts who end up in jail are
more likely to stay hooked longer and less likely to be treated for
addiction, according to the research published in the medical journal

"The simple explanation is that by incarcerating people, you limit
their access to help," Evan Wood, a researcher at the B.C. Centre for
Excellence in HIV-AIDS, said in an interview.

"While it may be politically popular to jail injection-drug users,
it's not a very effective public health measure," he said.

The study followed 1,603 intravenous drug users in Vancouver for
almost a decade. During the study period, 842 of them (just over half)
stopped injecting drugs for a period of at least six months.

The data were derived from the Vancouver Injection Drug User Study,
which has been ongoing since 1996. Two-thirds of the users spent time
in jail at some point, mostly for drug-related crimes.

Researchers also tried to determine the effect of incarceration on
drug use by focusing on the minority of IV drug users - one in five -
who were incarcerated for the first time during the study period.

Incarceration was defined as "being in detention, prison or jail
overnight or longer in the previous six months."

The paper showed that pre- and post-incarceration drug use was
virtually the same. In other words, jailing drug addicts did not help
them overcome addiction.

Researchers found that those who were jailed were 57 per cent less
likely to give up drugs for a period of six months or more, compared
with those who were not jailed.

The study also found that IV drug users with access to methadone
programs (methadone is a drug used to wean heroin users from their
addiction) were 62 per cent more likely to kick their drug habit for a
period of six months or more. Methadone programs are available in the
community but not in prison.

"This is a simple research paper, but it has an important message,"
Dr. Wood said.

"We need to look at the most effective solutions for dealing with drug
crime," he said. "Locking up drug addicts is ineffective."According to
the paper, 30 per cent of female prisoners and 14 per cent of male
prisoners in Canadian federal penitentiaries are serving sentences for
drug-related offences. The numbers are probably higher in provincial
jails, but there are no good data.

Dr. Wood said the vast majority of people in the study were jailed for
petty crimes, mostly related to theft as a means of getting money to
feed their addiction.

The researcher said incarceration is very expensive and that money
would be better spent on addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs.

"It's appealing to the public that there is an element of punishment
when crimes are committed, but the public can also recognize that
addiction is a health issue," Dr. Wood said.

He stressed that "no one is suggesting that violent criminals should
not be locked up," but said the vast majority of drug addicts are, at
worst, petty thieves.

The study notes that drug use fell while people were in prison but it
did not stop. (It is widely acknowledged that drugs like heroin,
cocaine and crack are available in prison.) In fact, researchers
concluded that there are no major differences in drug consumption
patterns between those who were jailed and those not jailed.

The big difference was that IV drug users who remained in the
community were more likely to get treatment and stop using drugs, at
least temporarily.

There is also evidence that those who had been imprisoned engaged in
more risky behaviours such as needle sharing. (There are no
needle-exchange programs in Canadian prisons, though activists have
been demanding them for years.) Earlier research showed that about 30
per cent of all new infections with HIV-AIDS occur in prison.
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