Policing Practices and Risk of HIV Infection among People Who Inject Drugs

Pieter Baker, Leo Beletsky, Liliana Avalos, Christopher Venegas, Carlos Rivera, Steffanie A. Strathdee, Javier Cepeda

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Drug-law enforcement constitutes a structural determinant of health among people who inject drugs (PWID). Street encounters between police and PWID (e.g., syringe confiscation, physical assault) have been associated with health harms, but these relationships have not been systematically assessed. We conducted a systematic literature review to evaluate the contribution of policing to risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection among PWID. We screened MEDLINE, sociological databases, and gray literature for studies published from 1981 to November 2018 that included estimates of HIV infection/risk behaviors and street policing encounters. We extracted and summarized quantitative findings from all eligible studies. We screened 8,201 abstracts, reviewed 175 full-text articles, and included 27 eligible analyses from 9 countries (Canada, China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, and the United States). Heterogeneity in variable and endpoint selection precluded meta-analyses. In 5 (19%) studies, HIV infection among PWID was significantly associated with syringe confiscation, reluctance to buy/carry syringes for fear of police, rushed injection due to a police presence, fear of arrest, being arrested for planted drugs, and physical abuse. Twenty-one (78%) studies identified policing practices to be associated with HIV risk behaviors related to injection drug use (e.g., syringe-sharing, using a "shooting gallery"). In 9 (33%) studies, policing was associated with PWID avoidance of harm reduction services, including syringe exchange, methadone maintenance, and safe consumption facilities. Evidence suggests that policing shapes HIV risk among PWID, but lower-income settings are underrepresented. Curbing injection-related HIV risk necessitates additional structural interventions. Methodological harmonization could facilitate knowledge generation on the role of police as a determinant of population health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-40
Number of pages14
JournalEpidemiologic reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • HIV
  • drug injection
  • people who inject drugs
  • police
  • policing
  • substance-related disorders
  • systematic reviews

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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