The Infectious Disease Initiative at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law has expanded to address the opioid crisis and its relationship to HIV and other infectious diseases such as hepatitis C. Earlier this year, Jeffrey Crowley, Program Director of the Infectious Disease Initiative, co-authored a journal article, “Preventing HIV and Hepatitis Infections Among People Who Inject Drugs: Leveraging an Indiana Outbreak Response to Break the Impasse.” More recently, on October 23, 2017, Jeffrey Crowley participated in a congressional briefing entitled “HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis and Opioids: Using Data and Mapping Technology to Understand Overlapping Epidemics at the National, State and Local Level.” Next month, as part of an event organized by amfAR on December 4, 2017, Jeffrey Crowley will participate in a roundtable discussion on using data to inform the opioid epidemic response.
Another area that we are exploring at the O’Neill Institute is the link between opioid use and HIV criminalization. HIV criminalization describes the unjust application of criminal laws to people living with HIV based solely on their HIV status. Many HIV criminal laws specifically target people living with HIV who inject drugs. Twelve states and one U.S. territory have provisions specifically criminalizing syringe sharing or sale by a person living with HIV. These laws intensify HIV stigma, and as a result, people who inject drugs may be less likely to seek testing or treatment for HIV. Thirty-two states also criminalize the possession of drug paraphernalia, including syringes. Advocates say these laws prevent people from carrying new syringes, which may cause them to share injection equipment and increase the chance that HIV hepatitis C will be spread. These laws run counter to public health best practices and do not reflect the idea that HIV and substance abuse are public health issues.
On November 30, 2017, the O’Neill Institute will host a presentation on HIV Criminalization and the Opioid Crisis in recognition of World AIDS Day. The presentation will include a discussion of HIV criminalization in the United States and its connection to drug and syringe use, before then turning to the opioid crisis and public health efforts in response to the crisis.
This blog post was co-authored by Natalie Dobek, a second-year law student at Georgetown Law and a research assistant at the O’Neill Institute.
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.