We reviewed evidence from more than 900 studies and reports on the link between human rights abuses experienced by people who use drugs and vulnerability to HIV infection and access to services. Published work documents widespread abuses of human rights, which increase vulnerability to HIV infection and negatively affect delivery of HIV programmes. These abuses include denial of harm-reduction services, discriminatory access to antiretroviral therapy, abusive law enforcement practices, and coercion in the guise of treatment for drug dependence. Protection of the human rights of people who use drugs therefore is important not only because their rights must be respected, protected, and fulfilled, but also because it is an essential precondition to improving the health of people who use drugs. Rights-based responses to HIV and drug use have had good outcomes where they have been implemented, and they should be replicated in other countries. Copyright 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.