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Free needle exchange programme may save lives

Free needle exchange programme may save lives

Associate Minister of Health Jim Anderton says he hopes the free-of-charge Needle Exchange Programme being launched today will save lives and contribute to building safer communities.



Jim Anderton and the needle exchange team.

"The evidence from both overseas and in New Zealand is that the sharing of injecting equipment by injecting drug users is a devastatingly efficient way of transmitting blood-borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

"What we are doing today is bringing New Zealand into line with the majority of Western countries that operate free-of-charge needle syringe exchange programmes and we are doing this in the hope that this move will save more lives than we have been able to with the user-pay exchange that we have had until now," Jim Anderton said.

Jim Anderton's Progressive Party successfully bid for the funding to institute a free-to-users, one-for-one Needle Exchange Programme in Budget 2004.

The additional funding will allow NSEP outlets to provide needles and syringes free of cost on a one-for-one exchange basis.

One-for-one exchange is when injecting drug users are provided with a new needle and syringe for free in return for every used one they bring into an NSEP outlet.


BACKGROUND

At present, NEP outlets in New Zealand are estimated by the Ministry of Health to be providing needles to cover only 10-11 percent of injecting incidents per year. The New Zealand NEP has low rate of needle and syringe return (52%) compared with free-of-charge exchanges operated in other countries.

Based on earlier pilot programmes, it is expected one-for-one exchange will provide a strong incentive for IDUs to return their used syringes to NEP outlets.

Return of needles and syringes means these items will be removed from circulation, reducing the likelihood of risky practices such as sharing and reusing equipment.

Encouraging IDUs to return used syringes to NEP outlets will also reduce the number of needles and syringes being diposed of unsafely and thereby minimise the possibility of needle stick injuries to the public.

The Needle and Syringe Exchange Programme (NEP) has been operating since the introduction of the Health (Needles and Syringes) Regulations 1987. As of 1 January 2002 there were 177 pharmacies, 13 dedicated needle exchanges and 10 alternative outlets and operating in New Zealand. A small number of doctors and outreach workers were also distributing injecting equipment through the NEP. The NEP currently has a turnover of approximately 1 million needles and syringes a year.

The review conducted in 2001 by the Centre for Harm Reduction in Australia, concluded that New Zealand’s NEP has been effective in preventing HIV and HCV infections among IDUs. It also found that a gradual but sustained decline in needle sharing had occurred since the late 1980s, which was likely to be at least partially as a result of NEP activities. Furthermore, the review estimated that for every dollar spent on the NEP, $3.35 was saved in health care costs that would otherwise have accrued over the period of the investment.

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