Australia is known for having successfully kept blood borne viruses and diseases emanating from intravenous drug use to a relatively low level. Providing access to clean needles and syringes to users of intravenous drugs is one of the key initiatives that contributes to that success. Yet, unlike other countries, Australia has failed to provide NSPs in prisons, despite the prevalence of widespread injecting drug use within correctional systems.

Nearly one half of prisoners have injected drugs and many continue to do so in prison, using and sharing degraded contraband equipment. According to recent research about one third of prisoners who continue to inject drugs in prison contract hepatitis C while they are incarcerated and infected prisoners pose a health risk to the broader community upon release.

Correctional systems are obliged to provide for the personal safety of staff and prisoners by promoting their physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing and minimizing and managing all manner of risks in the prison environment. To expose prisoners who inject drugs, as well as prisoners who don’t inject drugs, to blood-borne diseases from unsafe syringes, may breach duty of care.

To date prison staff have resisted the establishment of prison based NSPs because the needles could be used as a weapon by inmates. While that is an understandable fear it appears to be misplaced, because several countries have managed prison NSPs for many years without having such an incident, or other adverse outcomes, and some have reported a decline in hepatitis C and HIV among inmates.

Anex has developed protocols to assist the implementation of prison NSPs in Australia, based on overseas experience and consultations with stakeholders in Australian prisons. Many reputable organisations in the fields of medicine, health, and alcohol and other drugs, and prominent Australians, have offered their support for NSPs in custodial settings as a public health service.

Please visit the Australian Drug Foundation website for more information.

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