Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 90, Issue 2, pp 284–298 | Cite as

Syringe Confiscation as an HIV Risk Factor: The Public Health Implications of Arbitrary Policing in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

  • Leo Beletsky
  • Remedios Lozada
  • Tommi Gaines
  • Daniela Abramovitz
  • Hugo Staines
  • Alicia Vera
  • Gudelia Rangel
  • Jaime Arredondo
  • Steffanie A. Strathdee


Female sex workers who inject drugs (FSW-IDUs) face elevated risk for HIV/STIs and constitute a key population for public health prevention. Through direct and indirect pathways including human rights violations, policing practices like syringe confiscation can compound FSW-IDU health risk and facilitate the spread of disease. We studied correlates of experiencing syringe confiscation among FSW-IDUs in northern Mexico, where formal policy allows for syringes to be available over the counter without a prescription, but police practices are often at odds with the law. FSW-IDUs reporting recent syringe sharing and unprotected sex with clients in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez were administered surveys and HIV/STI testing. Logistic regression was used to identify correlates of syringe confiscation. Among 624 respondent FSW-IDUs, prevalence of syringe confiscation in the last 6 months was 48 %. The following factors were positively associated with syringe confiscation: testing positive for HIV (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 2.54, 95 % confidence interval [CI] = 1.11–5.80), reporting sexual abuse by police (aOR = 12.76, 95 % CI = 6.58–24.72), engaging in groin injection (aOR = 1.84, 95 % CI = 1.15–2.93), injecting in public (aOR = 1.64; 95 % CI = 1.14–2.36), and obtaining syringes from pharmacies (aOR = 1.54; 95 % CI = 1.06–2.23). Higher education level was negatively associated with syringe confiscation (aOR = 0.92, 95 % CI = 0.87–0.98) as was frequent injection with clients within the last month (aOR = 0.64, 95 % CI = 0.44–0.94). This analysis adds to the body of evidence linking unauthorized law enforcement actions targeting high-risk groups with HIV and other adverse health outcomes. Using a public health lens to conceptualize abuse as a structural risk factor, we advocate for multi-prong prevention, systematic monitoring, and evidence-based intervention response to deleterious police practices.


Injection drug use Sex work Police HIV risk factors Risk environment 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of study participants and staff, including Pro-COMUSIDA A.C., Prevencasa A.C., Salud y Desarollo Comunitario de Ciudad Juárez A.C. (SADEC) and Federación Méxicana de Asociaciones Privadas (FEMAP), COLEF and UCSD for assistance with data collection, as well as the Instituto de Servicios de Salud de Estado de Baja California (ISESALUD). Funding for this study was provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA; R01 DA023877, D43TW008633) and for Beletsky by R25DA025771. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Views expressed are of the authors and do not reflect the views of the funding agencies.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leo Beletsky
    • 1
    • 2
    • 7
  • Remedios Lozada
    • 3
    • 4
    • 8
  • Tommi Gaines
    • 1
  • Daniela Abramovitz
    • 1
  • Hugo Staines
    • 5
  • Alicia Vera
    • 1
  • Gudelia Rangel
    • 6
  • Jaime Arredondo
    • 1
  • Steffanie A. Strathdee
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Global Public HealthUniversity of California—San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Northeastern University School of Law and Bouvé College of Health SciencesBostonUSA
  3. 3.Salud y Desarollo Comunitario de Ciudad Juárez A.C. (SADEC)Ciudad JuárezMexico
  4. 4.Prevencasa, A.C.TijuanaMexico
  5. 5.Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad JuarezCiudad JuarezMexico
  6. 6.El Colegio de la Frontera NorteChihuahuaMexico
  7. 7.BostonUSA
  8. 8.Federación Méxicana de Asociaciones Privadas (FEMAP)Ciudad JuárezMexico

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