Is the Federal Government Really “Focussed on Prevention”?

Illicit Drug Users Ask – Is the Federal Government Really “Focussed on Prevention”?

The Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) the national peak organisation representing injecting and illicit drug users welcomes the announcement in the Federal Budget tonight of $15.9 million over four years for hepatitis C education and prevention. However AIVL is concerned that it is simply inadequate to effectively address the rapidly growing hepatitis C epidemic amongst injecting drug users in Australia.

AIVL believes that there is an urgent need for a significant amount of dedicated funding to be made available for the ongoing national response to the hepatitis C epidemic. Ms Annie Madden AIVL Executive Officer stated that “In the past four years there has been approximately a 45 percent increase in new hepatitis C infections from 11,000 new infections per year in 1997 to 16,000 new infection per year in 2001.”

“With between 80-90 percent of all hepatitis C infections linked to unsafe injecting practices, it is clear that there is still a great deal of education and advocacy work to be done with injecting drug users (IDU) to halt the further escalation of the hepatitis C epidemic in Australia” she added.

When it comes to reducing the spread of hepatitis C, AIVL believes that the most effective strategy is a harm reduction approach. Unfortunately, it seems that the Federal Government is shifting further and further away from its fundamental policy commitment in this area. “There is not a single reference to harm reduction approaches in the National Illicit Drugs Strategy initiatives included in tonight’s budget. It seems that rather than focussing on supply reduction, demand reduction and harm reduction the Federal Government is now only interested in supply and demand reduction strategies.” Ms Madden suggested.

AIVL believes that the continued shift away from harm reduction approaches is evidenced in the Government’s ongoing, albeit reduced, commitment to the introduction of retractable needles and syringes. “While AIVL welcomes the $10 million reduction in spending on this initiative, we are still extremely concerned about the potentially negative health consequences for injecting drug users associated with the introduction of retractable needles and syringes” stated Ms Madden.

AIVL believes that rather than spending $17.5 million on the introduction of retractable needles and syringes, more funding should have been allocated to some of the promising but under-funded new initiatives announced in the budget in the illicit drugs area. “While the money for the National Psychostimulants Initiative and funding for drug users with mental health issues is welcomed, once again we do not believe that this funding support is anywhere near adequate to effectively address these issues.”

AIVL congratulates the Federal Government for their ongoing commitment to and support for Needle & Syringe Programs through the continuation of the COAG Illicit Drug Supporting Measures for Needle & Syringe Programs. The many programs that have been funded at the local level through the COAG Initiatives have made a real difference to the lives of drug users through access to clean injecting equipment, education and referral to services.

“All in all AIVL has received this Federal Budget with mixed emotions. We are very pleased to see an ongoing commitment to hepatitis C education and prevention. However, to truly be successful it is vital that there is an ongoing commitment to a harm reduction policy framework and consumer involvement. AIVL will continue to fight to ensure that the voices of drug users are heard at the policy level and that harm reduction does not become extinct in Australia.” Ms Madden concluded.