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Scrap penalties for needle possession

24 November, 2004

Scrap penalties for needle possession, urges Drug Foundation

The New Zealand Drug Foundation today called for the removal of all penalties for the possession of needles by intravenous drug users, saying it would achieve a greater public good in reducing rates of HIV and hepatitis infections.

The Drug Foundation, appearing before the Health Select Committee in Parliament to discuss the Misuse of Drugs Amendment bill, urged it to go further than just tinkering with the burden of proof by revoking needle possession penalties altogether.

“The Health Select Committee should take the opportunity to significantly reduce the harm of HIV and hepatitis infection not only to intravenous drug users but to the community at large,” said Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell.

“Worldwide, the evidence is clear that needle exchange programmes are effective in reducing rates of infection. Removal of penalties would help reduce the six percent sharing rate that exists in New Zealand or eliminate it entirely.

“What we’ve found is that one of the biggest obstacles to needle exchanging is the fear of prosecution. Intravenous users can feel they risk arrest when they go to a needle exchange service with a bag of needles,” said Mr Bell. The Drug Foundation noted that for every dollar spent on needle exchange programmes, $3.35 was saved in healthcare costs.

Had these programmes not been introduced, by the end of 2001 there would be an extra 1454 people living with hepatitis C and 1031 living with HIV or AIDS in New Zealand. Professor Chris Cunningham, chair of the Drug Foundation board, called for extra resourcing of the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs because amendments introduced by the Bill, which the Foundation supported, would further stretch the already overburdened EACD. “We strongly support the move to make the Act more flexible, responsive and accurate,” said Professor Cunningham.

“However, we are concerned that the EACD has a substantial work programme and appeared to be running behind schedule. “Attempts to take a positive step by following an evidence-based approach to drug classification needs adequate resources to back it up. The lack of support also makes it hard for the public to contribute to the EACD’s work, which we feel is very important,” he said.

ENDS

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