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Incarceration experiences among a community-recruited sample of injection drug users in Bangkok, Thailand Hayashi, Kanna; Milloy, M-J; Fairbairn, Nadia; Kaplan, Karyn; Suwannawong, Paisan; Lai, Calvin; Wood, Evan; Kerr, Thomas Dec 30, 2009

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ralssBioMed CentBMC Public HealthOpen AcceResearch articleIncarceration experiences among a community-recruited sample of injection drug users in Bangkok, ThailandKanna Hayashi1, M-J Milloy1,2, Nadia Fairbairn1, Karyn Kaplan3, Paisan Suwannawong3, Calvin Lai1, Evan Wood1,4 and Thomas Kerr*1,4Address: 1Urban Health Research Initiative, British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Vancouver, Canada, 2School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, 3Mitsampan Harm Reduction Center/Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group, Bangkok, Thailand and 4Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, CanadaEmail: Kanna Hayashi - kanna.hayashi@gmail.com; M-J Milloy - mjmilloy@cfenet.ubc.ca; Nadia Fairbairn - n.fairbairn@gmail.com; Karyn Kaplan - karyn@ksc.th.com; Paisan Suwannawong - paisan.suwannawong@gmail.com; Calvin Lai - clai@cfenet.ubc.ca; Evan Wood - uhri-ew@cfenet.ubc.ca; Thomas Kerr* - uhri-tk@cfenet.ubc.ca* Corresponding author    AbstractBackground: Since 2003 Thailand has waged an aggressive "war on drugs" campaign focused onarresting and incarcerating suspected drug users and dealers. However, little is known aboutincarceration experiences among IDU in the wake of the recent war on drugs. Therefore, wesought to examine incarceration experiences among IDU in Bangkok, Thailand.Methods: We examined the prevalence of incarceration among community-recruited IDUparticipating in the Mitsampan Community Research Project. Multivariate logistic regression wasused to identify factors associated with a self-reported history of incarceration. We also examinedthe prevalence of injection drug use and syringe sharing within prisons.Results: 252 IDU were recruited in August 2008; 66 (26.2%) were female and the median age was36.5 years. In total, 197 (78.2%) participants reported a history of incarceration. In multivariateanalyses, reporting a history of incarceration was associated with a history of compulsory drugtreatment (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 4.93; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.95 - 12.48), non-fataloverdose (AOR = 3.69; 95%CI: 1.45 - 9.39), syringe sharing (AOR = 2.20; 95%CI: 1.12 - 4.32), andfemale gender (AOR = 0.41; 95%CI: 0.20 - 0.82). Among those who reported a history ofincarceration, 59 (29.9%) reported injection drug use in prison, and 48 (81.4%) of these individualsreported sharing syringes in prison. Incarceration was not associated with the number of injectionsperformed in the previous week (p = 0.202).Conclusion: Over three-quarters of the IDU participating in this study reported a history ofincarceration, and 30% of these individuals reported injection drug use within prison. Further, analarmingly high level of syringe sharing within prison was reported, and incarceration was notassociated with reductions in drug use. These findings provide further evidence of the need forcommunity diversion strategies, as well as harm reduction programs, in Thai prisons.Published: 30 December 2009BMC Public Health 2009, 9:492 doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-492Received: 21 July 2009Accepted: 30 December 2009This article is available from: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/9/492© 2009 Hayashi et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.Page 1 of 7(page number not for citation purposes)BMC Public Health 2009, 9:492 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/9/492BackgroundIn many countries, drug law enforcement continues to bea dominant societal response to illicit drug use [1,2]. Con-sequently, injection drug users (IDU) are frequentlyarrested and incarcerated [3-5]. A large body of evidenceindicates that incarceration is associated with elevatedrisks of drug-related harm among IDU, including thespread of blood-borne pathogens such as human immun-odeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) [6-10]. For example, HIV outbreaks associated with injectiondrug use in prison have been observed in Scotland [11],Lithuania [12], and the Russian Federation [13]. Endemicsharing of injection equipment has been identified as amajor factor contributing to high HCV incidence in pris-ons in Australia [14] and Scotland [15]. The burden ofprison-related epidemics of infectious disease is essen-tially linked with the public health of communities due tohigh inmate turnover and the potential spread of prison-acquired infections among non-inmate populations.The first major wave of HIV infection in Thailand isbelieved to have occurred among IDU inmates in Bang-kok in 1988 [16]. Since then, several studies have sug-gested that incarceration has continued to be animportant risk factor for HIV infection among Thai IDU[17-21]. The HIV prevalence among Thai IDU remainsdisproportionately high, standing between 30-50% [22-24]. Moreover, a recent study reported an HIV/HCV co-infection rate of 98.8% among HIV-positive IDU prison-ers in Bangkok [25]. Despite these findings, Thailand hasconsistently pursued an aggressive enforcement-basedresponse to illicit drug use [17,26,27]. The inmate popu-lation in Thailand has more than tripled between 1992and 2002, with approximately 70% of these incarcerationevents attributable to drug-related charges [28,29].The most aggressive "war on drugs" campaign in Thailandwas initiated in 2003 by the former Thai Prime MinisterThaksin Shinawatra, which involved renewing and aug-menting efforts to arrest and incarcerate suspected drugusers and dealers [26]. This campaign also involved dra-matically scaling up compulsory addiction treatment pro-gramming [30,31]. In 2008, the Thai governmentreinstituted this policy initiative [32,33]. While epidemio-logical evidence has linked incarceration with HIV infec-tion among Thai IDU, little is known about rates of andfactors associated with incarceration among IDU in thewake of these intensive law enforcement campaigns.Therefore, we sought to characterize the prevalence andcorrelates of incarceration among a community-recruitedsample of IDU in Bangkok, Thailand with the aim ofinforming policies specific to addiction and public health.effort involving the British Columbia Centre for Excel-lence in HIV/AIDS (Vancouver, Canada), the MitsampanHarm Reduction Center (Bangkok, Thailand), the ThaiAIDS Treatment Action Group (Bangkok, Thailand), andChulalongkorn University (Bangkok, Thailand). DuringJuly and August of 2008, the research partners designedand undertook a cross-sectional study targeting local IDUin Bangkok recruited through peer-based outreach effortsand word-of-mouth. Invited participants were asked toattend the Mitsampan Harm Reduction Center, wherethey provided informed consent and completed an inter-viewer-administered questionnaire. The survey instru-ment elicited demographic data, information on drug usepatterns, HIV risk behavior, overdose experiences, interac-tions with the criminal justice system (including policeand incarceration), and experience with health care. Uponcompletion of the questionnaire, participants were pro-vided a stipend of 250 Thai baht (about US$7.50) andreimbursed for transportation costs. The study has beenapproved by the research ethics boards at the University ofBritish Columbia and Chulalongkorn University.The primary outcome of interest in the present analysiswas self-reported history of incarceration (i.e., answering"Yes" to the question: "Have you ever been in prison over-night or longer?"). We compared IDU who reported a his-tory of incarceration with those who did not usingunivariate statistics and multivariate logistic regression.Variables considered included: median age (< 36.5 yearsvs. ≥ 36.5 years); gender; education level (≥ secondaryschool vs. < secondary school); median daily expenses forpurchasing drugs (< 300 Thai baht per day vs. ≥ 300 Thaibaht per day); ever injected heroin; ever injected yaba(methamphetamine); ever injected midazolam; everinjected methadone; ever used drugs in combination; evershared syringes; ever experienced a non-fatal overdose;ever involved in sex trade; ever in compulsory drug treat-ment; and ever on methadone treatment. All behavioralvariables were coded as yes vs. no.To examine the bivariate associations between each inde-pendent variable and a history of incarceration, we usedthe Pearson X2 test. Fisher's exact test was used when oneor more of the cells contained values less than or equal tofive. We then applied an a priori-defined statistical proto-col that examined factors associated with a history ofincarceration by fitting a multivariate logistic regressionmodel that included all variables that were significantlyassociated with history of incarceration at the p < 0.05level in univariate analyses. Using Pearson's correlationcoefficient, we also assessed whether reporting a history ofincarceration was associated with reduced drug use (asmeasured by the number of injections performed in thePage 2 of 7(page number not for citation purposes)MethodsData for these analyses were obtained from the Mitsam-pan Community Research Project, a collaborative researchprevious week). All p-values were two-sided. In a sub-anal-ysis, we also asked individuals reporting a history of incar-BMC Public Health 2009, 9:492 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/9/492ceration if they had ever injected drugs and sharedsyringes in prison.ResultsIn total, 252 IDU were recruited in August 2008, of whom66 (26.2%) were female. The median age was 36.5 years(IQR: 31.0-46.0 years). The majority of our sample (n =238; 94.4%) grew up in the Bangkok Metropolitan Area.One hundred fifty-five (61.5%) individuals reportedinjection heroin use and 86 (34.1%) reported injectionyaba and ice (i.e., methamphetamine) use at least daily inthe past six months. Less than half of the participants (n =111; 44.0%) had ever received methadone treatment, and116 (46.0%) received drug or alcohol treatment in thepast six months. In total, 197 (78.2%) participantsreported a history of incarceration.Table 1 presents the univariate analyses of factors associ-ated with reporting a history of incarceration. As shown,reporting a history of incarceration was positively associ-ated with having been in compulsory drug treatment(odds ratio [OR] = 4.91, 95% confidence interval [CI]:2.01-12.03), history of non-fatal overdose (OR = 4.40,95%CI: 1.80-10.79), syringe sharing (OR = 2.44, 95%CI:1.30-4.58), and midazolam injection (OR = 2.00, 95%CI:1.08-3.69), and was negatively associated with femalegender (OR = 0.48, 95%CI: 0.25-0.91).Table 2 presents the multivariate analyses of factors inde-pendently associated with reporting a history of incarcer-ation. As shown, reporting a history of incarceration wasindependently and positively associated with having beenin compulsory drug treatment (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]= 4.93, 95%CI: 1.95-12.48), ever overdosed (AOR = 3.69,95%CI: 1.45-9.39), syringe sharing (AOR = 2.20, 95%CI:1.12-4.32), and was negatively associated with femalegender (AOR = 0.41, 95%CI: 0.20-0.82). Among thosewho reported a history of incarceration, 59 (29.9%)reported injection drug use in prison and 48 (81.4%) ofthese individuals reported sharing syringes in prison.Reporting a history of incarceration was not associatedwith the number of injections performed in the previousweek (p = 0.202).DiscussionMore than three-quarters of the community-recruited IDUparticipating in this study reported a history of incarcera-tion. In multivariate analyses, after adjustment for rele-vant covariates, reporting a history of incarceration waspositively associated with a history of compulsory drugtreatment, syringe sharing and non-fatal overdose.Females were less likely than males to have been incarcer-ated. Among those reporting a history of incarceration,reported among those who injected drugs while in prison.Reporting a history of incarceration was not found to beassociated with reduced frequency of injection drug use.Our findings are consistent with previous studies suggest-ing that incarceration is very common among Thai IDU[17], and that high levels of drug injection and syringesharing occur within prisons in this setting [17,34]. How-ever, the proportion of Thai IDU with a history of incar-ceration observed in this study is considerably higher thanthe one observed by Beyrer et al. during the period 1999-2000, who reported that 55% of IDU in Northern Thai-land had a history of incarceration [17]. This increase inthe prevalence of incarceration among Thai IDU may beattributable to differences in sample characteristics or geo-graphic differences in drug law enforcement effortsbetween Northern Thailand and Bangkok, or the higherprevalence observed in our study may reflect the 2003 waron drugs and subsequent crackdowns that have takenplace throughout the country in spite of policy efforts toredirect people who use drugs to treatment centers ratherthan prison. Regardless, given the high prevalence of HIVinfection in this setting [23,24] and the high levels ofinjection drug use and syringe sharing that occur withinprisons, it is unlikely that the epidemic of HIV amongThai IDU can be controlled under the current enforce-ment-based policy approach. As has been suggested previ-ously [35], controlling or averting epidemics of HIVinfection among IDU requires minimizing the transmis-sion of HIV within correctional environments, as well asreducing the rate of incarceration of drug-using popula-tions [36]. Our findings provide further evidence of theurgent need for harm reduction measures, includingsyringe exchange, in Thai prisons. Indeed, previous evalu-ations indicate that prison-based syringe exchange pro-grams have been successfully implemented in a range ofsettings, including low- and middle-income countries[37].Our findings also suggest that compulsory drug treatmentexperience is common among Thai IDU with a history ofincarceration. This may be due to the fact that Thai IDUare often arrested and held within prison before beingdiverted to a compulsory treatment setting. Recent reportssuggest that IDU spend on average 45 days in prison priorto the diversion [38]. The compulsory treatment system isintended to treat drug users as "patients" and reduce drug-related harms in overcrowded prisons [31,39]. However,given the evidence indicating high rates of syringe sharingamong IDU within Thai prisons in our study, as well as inprevious studies [19,34], the program of arrest and com-pulsory drug treatment system, which requires incarcera-tion of IDU, may fail to prevent HIV risk behaviorPage 3 of 7(page number not for citation purposes)30% reported injection drug use within prison. Further,an alarmingly high level of syringe sharing (81.4%) wasoccurring within prisons and thus may serve to perpetuaterather than reduce HIV infection rates among Thai IDU inBMC Public Health 2009, 9:492 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/9/492Table 1: Factors associated with history of incarceration among IDU in Bangkok, Thailand (n = 252)Characteristic History of incarceration n (%) OR 95% CI p-valueYes: 197 (78) No: 55 (22)Median age< 36.5 years 100 (51) 26 (47) 1.15 0.63 - 2.09 0.647≥ 36.5 years 97 (49) 29 (53)GenderFemale 45 (23) 21 (38) 0.48 0.25 - 0.91 0.024Other 152 (77) 34 (62)Education≥ Secondary 122 (62) 27 (49) 1.69 0.92 - 3.08 0.089< Secondary 75 (38) 28 (51)Median daily expenses for purchasing drugs< 300 Thai baht 94 (48) 31 (56) 0.71 0.39 - 1.29 0.258≥ 300Thai baht 103 (52) 24 (44)Ever injected heroinYes 186 (94) 48 (87) 2.47 0.91 - 6.70 0.077No 11 (6) 7 (13)Ever injected yaba (methamphetamine)Yes 128 (65) 33 (60) 1.24 0.67 - 2.28 0.497No 69 (35) 22 (40)Ever injected midazolamYes 139 (71) 30 (55) 2.00 1.08 -- 3.69 0.027No 58 (29) 25 (45)Ever injected methadoneYes 33 (17) 6 (11) 1.64 0.65 - 4.15 0.293No 164 (83) 49 (89)Ever used drugs in combinationYes 141 (72) 34 (62) 1.56 0.83 - 2.91 0.167No 56 (28) 21 (38)Ever shared syringesYes 107 (54) 18 (33) 2.44 1.30 - 4.58 0.005Page 4 of 7(page number not for citation purposes)BMC Public Health 2009, 9:492 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/9/492this setting. Further, the effectiveness of the current systemalso comes into question given that compulsory drugtreatment often consists of a military-style boot campwith no evidenced-based addiction treatment beingoffered [38]. Taken together with our finding of a lack ofan association between incarceration and reduction ininjection drug use, our study indicates a need to reformthe existing diversion program for drug-using offenders.Unfortunately, the evidence concerning commonlyapplied diversion programs, such as drug courts, is equiv-ocal [40], and therefore there is a need for innovation inthis area. However, as a recent report from the UnitedKingdom suggested, when diversion programs are appliedwithin a climate shaped by draconian drug policy, suchprograms tend to be punishment-oriented and inflexibleregarding individual treatment needs [41]. Therefore,broader structural changes to the over-arching policy envi-ronment are needed to ensure that responses to addictionfocus on the health needs of drug users rather than pun-ishment.We also found that non-fatal overdose was associatedwith incarceration among Thai IDU. This finding is of sig-nificance given the dearth of evidence pertaining to over-dose among Thai IDU. While we were unable to establisha temporal relationship between overdose and incarcera-tion in this sample, mounting evidence from Westerncountries indicates that incarceration greatly exacerbatesthe risk of fatal and non-fatal overdose among IDU uponrelease from prison [42-47]. In particular, risk for heroinoverdose is likely to be elevated upon release from prisonsas a result of reduced tolerance [48]. A recent study fromthe US reported that drug overdose was a leading cause ofdeath among former inmates [44]. Further research isNo 90 (46) 37 (67)Ever overdosedYes 69 (35) 6 (11) 4.40 1.80 - 10.79 0.001No 128 (65) 49 (89)Ever involved in sex tradeYes 20 (10) 11 (20) 0.45 0.20 - 1.01 0.054No 177 (90) 44 (80)Ever in compulsory drug treatmentYes 74 (38) 6 (11) 4.91 2.01 - 12.03 < 0.001No 123 (62) 49 (89)Ever on methadone treatmentYes 89 (45) 22 (40) 1.24 0.67 - 2.27 0.494No 108 (55) 33 (60)Table 1: Factors associated with history of incarceration among IDU in Bangkok, Thailand (n = 252) (Continued)Table 2: Multivariate logistic regression analysis of factors associated with reporting a history of incarceration among IDU in Bangkok, Thailand (n = 252)Characteristic AOR 95% CI p-valueGender (female vs. other) 0.41 0.20 - 0.82 0.01Ever shared syringes (yes vs. no) 2.20 1.12 - 4.32 0.02Ever overdosed (yes vs. no) 3.69 1.45 - 9.39 0.01Page 5 of 7(page number not for citation purposes)Ever in forced treatment (yes vs. no) 4.93 1.95 - 12.48 < 0.01BMC Public Health 2009, 9:492 http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/9/492needed to elicit the linkage between overdose and incar-ceration among Thai IDU.This study has several limitations. First, since this is anobservational study, we cannot infer causal relationshipsbetween exposure and outcome. Second, the study reliedon self-report, and therefore the results may be affected bysocially desirable reporting. While the peer-administeredinterviews were expected to minimize such bias, we maystill have underestimated the true prevalence of incarcera-tion among Thai IDU or the prevalence of drug use orsyringe sharing within prisons. Third, the study samplewas not randomly recruited, which means our findingsmay not be generalizable to other populations of IDU inThailand. Finally, we could not distinguish incarcerationhistories by type, duration, or location of incarceration.Future research should aim to address the effect that thesemodifiers might have on active IDU and their risk behav-iors.ConclusionsWe observed alarmingly high levels of incarceration andsyringe sharing in prison among a community-recruitedsample of Thai IDU. Incarceration was independentlyassociated with compulsory drug treatment experience,syringe sharing and non-fatal overdose, but was not asso-ciated with reductions in the frequency of injecting. Thesefindings raise serious concerns regarding the adversehealth consequences resulting from the enforcement-based approach to illicit drug use in Thailand and under-score the urgent need for community diversion programs(e.g., addiction treatment) and harm reduction measures(e.g., syringe exchange) in prisons.Competing interestsThe authors declare that they have no competing interests.Authors' contributionsTK, NF and EW designed the study. CL and TK conductedthe statistical analyses. KH and TK drafted the manuscriptand incorporated all suggestions. 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