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A needle in the side of public safety

23 May, 2005

A needle in the side of public safety

The New Zealand Drug Foundation today criticised the Health Select Committee for turning its back on public health advice regarding the possession of needles used for injecting drugs.

In its report into the Misuse of Drugs Amendment bill, the committee ignored all public health evidence - including from the independent review of New Zealand's needle exchange programme - that had urged that penalties for possessing needles be scrapped.

"The Health Select Committee had the opportunity to significantly control the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C infection among the injecting drug community but they blew it," said Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell.

"One of the biggest obstacles to needle-exchanging is the fear of prosecution. Injecting drug users often feel they risk arrest by going to an exchange with used needles.

"Simply tinkering with the burden of proof has not removed the risk of arrest and the perception of harassment; therefore one of the greatest barriers to the needle exchange service remains.

"The police's opinion that their ability to prosecute under this provision was a useful drug-control measure fails to consider the public health benefits that removing the penalties would achieve," he said.

Mr Bell reminded the Committee that the independent review in 2002 recommended the removal of penalties and it was also the position of the Inter-Agency Committee on Drugs, prior to the police changing their mind.

New Zealand research into needle exchange services estimated that for every dollar spent on 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.


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