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NZ Needle Exchange one of world's most successful

Needle Exchange New Zealand
Media release 19 November 2009

New Zealand’s Needle Exchange one of world’s most successful

Recent data has confirmed that New Zealand’s Needle Exchange Programme is one of the most successful in the world, but we could do even better, says Needle Exchange New Zealand National Manager Charles Henderson.

Initial results from the National Needle Exchange Blood-borne Virus Seroprevalence Survey 2009 show New Zealand continues to have the lowest rate of HIV amongst its intravenous drug users (less than 1 percent) compared to other countries, and that a significant reduction in hepatitis B and C among injecting users has been achieved over the last five years.

“There have been no new HIV or hepatitis B infections within this group in recent years. This is quite remarkable as blood-borne viruses are often rife among drug-using communities where needle-sharing can occur,” Mr Henderson said.

He said, however, that a reduction in hepatitis C levels was the most pleasing result of all.

“Our 2004 study revealed that nearly three out of four New Zealand injecting drug users had been exposed to the hepatitis C virus. This year’s study indicates a significant drop in this statistic to around half.

Hepatitis C is a virus that can cause liver disease, leading to years of ill health and possibly even death. It can only be caught via the exchange of blood from an infected person. It is a significant risk for those drug users who share needles or other injecting paraphernalia.

Mr Henderson said the Needle Exchange Programme which sells equipment to users at low cost, or exchanges them on a one-for-one basis, also offers advice, support and counselling which has helped reduce blood-borne virus infection levels and other negative health consequences from injecting behaviours.

“Over the last 21 years, the Needle Exchange Programme has saved thousands of Kiwi lives and millions of tax-payer dollars, by helping users change their behaviour and disrupt the passage of these viruses from one person to another.”

However, Mr Henderson said the exchange programme could be used more extensively within the community, which would make it more successful and reduce blood-borne virus levels even further.

“Basically, we’d like to see organisations and individuals within the primary health care sector better linked and more aware of community-based needle exchange outlets. There will also be people working in youth, justice and prison services whose clients can benefit by increased connections to the exchanges, or at least making use of NEP knowledge and resources.

“Working together more efficiently could help us all deliver better health outcomes for drug users; whether preventing blood-borne viruses, assisting access to health services such as detox units or substitution programmes, ensuring that secondary health issues related to injection use are identified and treated, or assisting those wanting to stop their injecting drug use.”

Approximately 200 outlets around New Zealand provide new injection equipment to injecting drug users and safely dispose of used equipment. Around 3 million clean needles have been distributed in 2009.

The latest Household Drug Survey indicates 2 percent of New Zealanders inject or have injected drugs at some point in their lives, many of whom do so only occasionally or recreationally. This means 85,000 people are potentially susceptible to blood-borne viruses from drug use.

About 70 countries have needle exchanges, but New Zealand’s programme, which turned 21 this year, was one of the first launched on a comprehensive nationwide scale.

ENDS

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