Needle-Exchange Programs Have Curbed HIV, Hepatitis C Among IDUs in Australia, Should Be Expanded, Opinion Piece Says
The Australian government's needle-exchange programs have "earned recognition around the world" for helping to curb the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among injection drug users, while deficiency of such programs in other countries is an example of "ideology sometimes get[ting] in the way of saving lives," Australian National Affairs Editor Mike Steketee writes in an opinion piece. The Australian government has funded needle-exchange programs since the 1980s and has budgeted about $28.5 million from 2004 to 2007 for state- and territory-run programs at 3,000 sites -- including drug treatment centers, health clinics, pharmacies and vending machines -- across the country, according to Steketee. Between 1998 and 1999, 32 million needles were distributed in Australia, which has a population of 20 million, Steketee writes, adding that about 8% of HIV-positive people in Australia have a history of injection drug use while about one-third of U.S. HIV cases are among IDUs and their sexual partners. The "intuitive objection to needle[-exchange] programs [is] that they encourage drug use, [which] just happens to be wrong," Steketee writes, adding that Australia should allow such programs in prisons, where an estimated 70% of women and 45% of men are living with hepatitis C. "Governments should continue to look for ways to stop the flow of damaging drugs," Steketee says, adding, "But until they succeed, they should devote more resources to doing what actually works -- curbing the most harmful effects of drug use" (Steketee, Australian, 2/23).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.