Calls for ACT to again lead prison syringe program debate reignited after AMA urges such initiatives nationally

Authored by Daniel Burdon; published in Canberra Times  January 9, 2017 – 9:30PM. Available in full via the link below.

“Calls for the ACT to return to leading the national debate on safe needle exchange programs in prisons have been reignited after the Australian Medical Association urged all governments to instigate such programs around the nation on Monday. The territory government was seen as leading the debate on regulated needle and syringe programs (NSP) in prisons after it pledged to trial a safe injecting room at Alexander Maconochie Centre in July last year after lengthy consultations on the ideal model. But prison officers overwhelmingly rejected the proposal in an all-staff vote in September last year, leading to the government abandoning the idea weeks out from the ACT’s October election.

Hepatitis ACT executive officer John Didlick said the statement was a welcome addition to “the chorus of professional bodies and organisations calling for regulated access to sterile injecting equipment in Australia’s prisons”.

Mr Didlick said there was also no evidence that regulated NSPs led to an increased risk of needle-related attacks on prison officers, and overseas research had actually revealed the opposite – that it made prisons safer.

“On the contrary, illegal and unregulated NSPs that operate when there is no regulated program, recirculate a limited supply of un-sterile needles that spread disease and create harms and risks for the prison and for the community more broadly,” he said. He said that it was also disappointing but “no surprise” that prison officers voted against the proposal, “given the absence of an accompanying evidence-based information campaign to inform their decision”. If the ACT Government continues to allow prison officers to dictate health policies, it is unlikely that a regulated program will replace the harmful clandestine NSP operating now,” he said.”…

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