Burnet Institute Head of HIV and Justice Health, Associate Professor Mark Stoové has led a group of experts calling for widespread adoption of needle and syringe programs in Australian prisons.
According to a perspective published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the absence of prison needle and syringe programs (PNSP) constitutes a breach of human rights and international law.
The report said only eight countries have PNSPs despite 74 countries, including Australia, supporting community needle and syringe programs.
Political leadership on this issue in Australia has been lacking, but the Australian Capital Territory is one exception, with successive chief ministers supporting a PNSP trial at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
People who inject drugs are grossly overrepresented in Australian prisons with up to 58 per cent of prisoners nationally reporting lifetime injecting histories.
Associate Professor Stoové et al said the evidence shows high rates of intra-prison hepatitis C transmission along with other blood borne viruses transmitted through sharing injecting equipment.
“Unlike in the community, people who inject drugs in Australian prisons cannot access sterile needles and syringes,” the authors wrote.
“Research and evaluation evidence shows no increase in drug use or availability following PNSP implementation and no reports of needles and syringes provided by PNSPs being used as weapons, or safety problems associated with syringe disposal.”
PNSPs are endorsed by peak Australian health and medical bodies as well as international groups such as the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
CLICK HERE to access the perspective in The Medical Journal of Australia.