Police Encounters Among Needle Exchange Clients in Baltimore: Drug Law Enforcement as a Structural Determinant of Health
American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 105, No. 9, pp. 1872-1879 (2015). DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302681
Posted: 27 Aug 2015
Date Written: August 26, 2015
Objectives. We piloted a monitoring mechanism to document police encounters around programs targeting people who inject drugs (PWID), and assessed their demographic predictors at two Baltimore, Maryland, needle exchange program (NEP) sites.
Methods. In a brief survey, 308 clients quantified, characterized, and sited recent police encounters. Multivariate linear regression determined encounter predictors, and we used geocoordinate maps to illustrate clusters.
Results. Within the past 6 months, clients reported a median of 3 stops near NEP sites (interquartile range [IQR] = 0–7.5) and a median of one arrest in any location (IQR = 0–2). Three respondents reported police referral to the NEP. Being younger (P = .009), being male (P = .033), and making frequent NEP visits (P = .02) were associated with reported police stops. Among clients reporting arrest or citation for syringe possession, Whites were significantly less likely than non-Whites to report being en route to or from an NEP (P < .001). Reported encounters were clustered around NEPs.
Conclusions. Systematic surveillance of structural determinants of health for PWID proved feasible when integrated into service activities. Improved monitoring is critical to informing interventions to align policing with public health, especially among groups subject to disproportionate levels of drug law enforcement.
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