Prisoners Want Access to a Needle Program in AMC!
The Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA) and the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) are respectively the ACT and national organisations representing people who use/inject drugs including prisoners and ex-prisoners who use drugs. In this regard, more so than other generic services for ex-prisoners, CAHMA and AIVL represent that group of people who most stand to benefit from the introduction of needle & syringe programs in prisons – prisoners who inject drugs.
CAHMA and AIVL have regular contact with ex-prisoners in the ACT and have held a number of focus groups specifically addressing the issue of a needle & syringe program in the AMC. The one stand out issue that has been overwhelmingly supported is the principle of prisoners being able to protect their health through having access to new needles and syringes. “I have spoken with numerous ex-prisoners on this issue and most of them were very supportive of there being a needle & syringe program in the AMC” said Nicole Wiggins, CAHMA Manager.
A minority of ex-prisoners expressed some reservations about the practicalities of operating the program but most these concerns centred on issues of confidentiality and potential repercussions for prisoners accessing the program. International experience has shown however that these issues can be effectively addressed with the right model for the specific environment. “The regular occurrence of needle sharing in the prison was of real concern to those CAHMA has spoken to with people being acutely aware of the risks involved but conceding that in the current environment there was no other choice” said Ms Wiggins.
With so many people going to prison for drug related offences and with a history of injecting drug use, the prison is overflowing with drug users, drugs and drug use. The goal of keeping drugs out of the AMC was flawed from the outset as there has never been a drug free prison anywhere in the world. Given these realities CAHMA and AIVL believe there is no other option than to supply new needles and syringes within the AMC.
In a similar vein to community based needle & syringe programs, there is a large body of evidence showing needle & syringe programs do not increase drug use and in fact provide a link to drug treatment programs for those injecting. Similarly the presence of new needles and syringes being available has no impact on the amount of drugs available in the community or prisons. Access to new needles and the presence of drugs are entirely independent of each other. However once the drugs are available, access to a new syringe is a critical element in determining whether blood borne viruses are prevented or transmitted.
“Evaluations of existing prison-based needle & syringe programs in other countries have shown very positive outcomes including no documented increase in illicit or injecting drug use, significant reductions in the reuse and sharing of injecting equipment, no documented attacks or violence and high levels of acceptance of the program by staff and prisoners. These outcomes serve to highlight the potential benefits of these programs for both staff and prisoners in the ACT context.”
Prisoners at the AMC need to be able to protect their health through the type of evidence based health prevention programs available within the general community and have expressed a desire to participate if a program was available in the AMC. We should listen to their views.