Why Needle and Syringe Programs (NSP)?

Harm reduction is based on the pragmatic concept that recognises that drug use is going to happen. Australia’s Harm Minimisation Policy recognises drug use will happen and that we can reduce the social and economic impacts of illicit drug use if we accept this and focus on reducing the harms associated with drug use. It is more practical to support harm reduction than to support attempts to eliminate drug use altogether.

Australia’s Harm Minimisation policy is a three-pronged approach, supply reduction, demand reduction, and harm reduction. Needle and syringe programs, NSP, sit within this framework of harm reduction based approaches to health. The NSW State HIV and Hepatitis B and C Strategies developed from this national policy and support and highlight the need for effective prevention strategies, of which providing sterile injection equipment is a key aspect. The strategies recognise that the availability of sterile injecting equipment is a key component in the prevention of both HIV and hepatitis C.

Are Needle and Syringe Programs effective?

Evidence clearly indicates that these Needle and Syringe programs have made a significant contribution to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C and other blood borne viral infections. The National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research report “Return on investment 2: Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of needle and syringe programs in Australia 2009” estimated that between 2000-2009, Needle and Syringe programs in Australia prevented 32 050 new HIV infections and 96 667 new hepatitis C infections.

Not only have Needle and Syringe programs reduced the spread of blood borne viruses they have reduced the economic impact of drug use. The National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research report also estimated that for every dollar spent on Needle and Syringe programs more than four dollars were saved in future healthcare expenditure. If you include estimated productivity gains and losses in the analysis, for every one dollar invested in NSPs (2000-2009), $27 is returned in cost savings.

Are Needle and Syringe Programs legal?

Legislation was amended to allow needle and syringe programs to operate when governments realised the need to provide sterile injecting equipment. Now it is legal for authorised Needle and Syringe Programs and pharmacies to provide sterile needles and syringes. Health services or Non Government Services wanting to provide a Needle and Syringe Program must be approved by the Minister for Health.

Is it legal to carry sterile syringes?

It is legal to possess sterile syringes in NSW. Although it is legal to receive a sterile syringe from an authorised needle and syringe program worker it is illegal for members of the public to pass sterile equipment on to someone else.

Don’t NSPs just encourage drug use?

Needle and Syringe programs have been studied and evaluated and there has been no evidence to show that they encourage drug use quite the opposite. Studies have found that the introduction of Needle and Syringe Programs have actually contributed to reported decreases in drug use because they act as a referral points for clients wanting to begin drug treatment.

A review of Needle and Syringe programs by the World Health Organization found that Needle and Syringe programs do not encourage people to inject drugs more frequently or increase drug use. Injecting drug users who attend Needle and Syringe programs are more likely to reduce or stop injecting drugs than those who do not attend as those who attend are more likely to be connected to treatment services.

Where can I find out more?

For further information about NSP check out:

NSP: Your Questions Answered (PDF)

The National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research report “Return on investment 2: Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of needle and syringe programs in Australia 2009″ (pdf)

NUAA Position Paper NSP’s 2020 (pdf)