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Incarceration Causes More Harm Than Benefits

Starting in 1996, the Vancouver Injection Drug User Study now demonstrates how incarceration creates more harm than benefit for injection drug users. According to The Globe and Mail October 10, 2008 article, ("Junkies Stay Hooked Behind Bars") "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 Addiction. 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. Two-thirds of the users spent time in jail at some point, mostly for drug-related crimes."

The article adds, "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."

The article notes, "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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