Return on Investment

Return on Investment

Drug users welcome further evidence of the value of needle and syringe programs to the Australian community

The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) – the national peak organisation representing people who inject drugs – welcomes the launch today of ‘Return on Investment 2: Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of needle and syringe programs in Australia’ commissioned by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing and developed by the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research. 

This landmark report shows the enormous savings that continued to accrue to the Government as a result of their investment in Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs) over the past 20 years. Ms. Annie Madden, AIVL’s Executive Officer stated, "Australia’s NSPs have saved the Australian economy – in healthcare costs – a staggering $1,280 million. This includes the prevention of an estimated 32,000 cases of HIV and nearly 100,000 cases of hepatitis C". 

While the number of syringes distributed each year have increased from 27 to 31 million and have cost a total of $243 million between 2000 and 2009, they will have saved $1.28 billion in health-savings in the short term and even more in the longer term. "For every dollar invested in NSPs over the past 10 years four dollars has been returned in healthcare cost savings. There are very few if any other public health initiatives that can demonstrate such significant returns on investment over such a long period of time" Ms Madden highlighted. 

Despite the success of NSPs in preventing both HIV and hepatitis C amongst people who inject drugs, NSPs continue to come under attack at the community and political level and are not adequately funded to meet the current demand for new injecting equipment. It is estimated that less than half of all injecting incidents involve using a new needle and syringe. If Australia were to invest additional funding in NSPs to meet demand, not only would additional hepatitis C and HIV infections be averted, but the cost savings could as much as 150 – 200% of the current level. 

If NSPs were to decrease in size or number in Australia however we would also see a correspondingly large increase in both HIV and hepatitis C infections with associated losses in health and life and reduced returns on investment. "We currently have a hepatitis C prevalence rate of over 65% among people who inject drugs. Without NSPs it is estimated that this could increase to over 87%. The rates for HIV are even more dramatic, with prevalence rates of 0.1% among people who inject easily rising to 14% without the ongoing commitment to NSP" stated Ms Madden. 

Ms. Madden concluded by saying, "We need to recognise the real, human impact that NSPs have. Although the figures are extremely impressive, it’s not just about numbers and cost savings. NSPs save lives. We must strive to increase the availability of NSPs and remove the barriers to accessing new injecting equipment for all people who inject drugs, including those who are currently being forced to place their health at risk in Australia’s prisons. We must continue to build on the success to date of NSPs. In this regard, it is not an exaggeration to say that the price of our success with NSPs is eternal vigilance."