This booklet summarises the literature on the provision of sterile needles and
syringes to people who inject drugs and other related issues. The proportion
of the Australian population thought to inject drugs is just under two
percent, or approximately 313,500 people.
The first case of HIV infection in
a drug injector without other risk factors in Australia was detected in 1985.
Needle and Syringe Programs started in Australia the following year. At that
time, hepatitis C infection was already well established among drug
injectors with more than half being infected.
Workers at Needle and Syringe Programs do much more than just provide
injecting equipment. They are often the first point of contact between
health services and people who inject drugs. Needle and Syringe Program
workers are able to provide education and information on healthcare
issues and drug related harm and facilitate entry into drug treatment.
Some Programs also provide primary medical care to this disadvantaged
population who often have very poor health.
Australian Governments invested $130 million in Needle and Syringe
Programs between 1991 and 2000. This resulted in the prevention of an
estimated 25,000 cases of HIV and 21,000 cases of hepatitis C among
injecting drug users. The savings to the health system in avoided
treatment costs over a lifetime are estimated to be between $2.4 and
While Needle and Syringe Programs enjoy strong public support in
Australia, there have from time to time been misunderstandings about
their role. In the past, Needle and Syringe Programs have been accused of
encouraging drug use and increasing the number of inappropriately
discarded needles and syringes in public places. However, Australian and
international studies have shown that neither of these concerns are
supported by impressive evidence. Research has shown that Needle and
Syringe Programs do not increase injecting drug use. This could be attributed
to the ability of health workers to offer health information, drug education
and referral into treatment.
Some members of the public have also raised concerns about inappropriately
discarded needles and syringes and the possibility of contracting HIV or
hepatitis C from a discarded used needle. The chance of a member of the
public contracting either HIV or hepatitis C from a discarded used needle is
extremely low. Worldwide, there has never been a reported case of a member
of the public contracting HIV in this way....
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