The need for doctors to promote healthy drug policies to improve health and drug treatment

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Authors: Dr Chris Ford, London

Holly Catania and Rebecca Murchie

Objective: To understand the effect of drug policies on the health and drug treatment of people who inject drugs in a number of different countries, and the need for doctors to get involved in advocating for healthy drug policies.

Method: International Doctors for Healthy Drug Policies (IDHDP) surveyed its members, who are all doctors practising in over 50 countries worldwide, asking them to assess the effects their countries’ drug policies have on health, drug treatment and HIV prevalence among people who use drugs. Results have been analysed and will be discussed.

Results: The results show that all countries’ systems of caring for people who use drugs appear to be affected by their national drug policy, mostly in a negative way, particularly with regards to health and rates of HIV infection, and often against evidence-based medical treatment. Many countries have reported similar issues, for example, the impact of stigma or where there is interference by law enforcement. But one of the most dramatic variations in countries is in HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs, appearing to be directly related to their drug policy.

Conclusion: Drug policies that adversely affect access to quality health care need to be challenged to improve drug treatment and reduce HIV rates in people who inject drugs. IDHDP believes that healthcare professionals, especially medical doctors, need to actively engage in drug policy reform to promote harm reduction and reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, and support humane and healthy drug policies based on science.


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Dr Chris Ford