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New Zealand Needle Exchange declared a success

New Zealand Needle Exchange declared a success

Media Release 19 May 2009
New Zealand Needle Exchange

New Zealand’s Needle Exchange Programme is the most successful in the world, says national manager of Needle Exchange New Zealand, Charles Henderson.

Speaking at an event on Tuesday to mark the 21st birthday of needle exchanges in this country, Mr Henderson said that, thanks to the programme, New Zealand has a lower HIV rate amongst its intravenous drug users than any other country, and that the spread of hepatitis B amongst injecting users has largely been contained.

“We've got the prevalence of HIV/AIDS down to just 0.3% and studies indicate there have been no new AIDS or hepatitis B infections within this group in recent years. This is quite remarkable considering blood-borne diseases are often rife amongst drug-using communities where needle-sharing is commonplace.

“It’s wonderful news for New Zealand as a whole because carriers of blood-borne diseases interact with others in their communities and can spread these diseases to people who don't inject drugs.

“Over the last 21 years, the Needle Exchange Programme has saved thousands of Kiwi lives and millions of tax-payer dollars.”

Numerous studies by the World Health Organization and others have said the evidence needle exchanges are effective and safe is overwhelming. The 2004 Needle Exchange Programme Review by Australia’s Burnet Institute (led by Campbell Aitken) estimated that every dollar spent on the programme in New Zealand avoided $20.00 in lifetime treatment costs.

Approximately 200 outlets around New Zealand provide new needles to injecting drug users and safely dispose of used needles. Around 3 million clean needles are distributed each year with many outlets also providing information and advice about preventing the transmission of blood-borne diseases and drug treatment options.

The Needle Exchange Programme was set up in response to the emerging HIV epidemic in the late 1980s and was made legal under the Health (Needles and Syringes) Regulations in 1988. At the time there was considerable opposition from those who said the programme would encourage more people to inject drugs.

But Mr Henderson says providing clean needles and de-circulating contaminated ones is not condoning or encouraging drugs.

“Needle exchanges are about reducing suffering and loss of life, and they often provide the only point of contact through which drug users can be educated, informed, and helped into treatment.

“The reality is that some people will inject drugs whether we like it or not just as some people will drive vehicles dangerously even though they shouldn't.

“Supplying clean needles is as sensible and necessary as making sure motorbike riders wear helmets and people in cars wear seatbelts. We do it because it reduces harm and benefits society as a whole, not just drug users.”

About 70 countries provide needle exchange programmes, but New Zealand was among the first to do so on a comprehensive nationwide scale.

The latest Household Drug Survey indicates 2 percent of New Zealanders inject or have injected drugs, including opiates and methamphetamine, in the last 12 months. This means 85,000 people are potentially susceptible to blood-borne diseases from drug use.


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