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Prison needle program may reduce virus spread -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The Australian Drugs Conference in Melbourne today called for a trial of
needle and syringe programs in Australian prisons. More than 350 of Australia's drug and alcohol
treatment experts voted and only one delegate opposed the motion. One in three Australian inmates
has hepatitis C and it's thought that a needle and syringe program could reduce the incidence of
blood-borne viruses in gaol. Steve Cannane reports.

STEVE CANNANE, REPORTER: In 1985, harm minimisation became a central part of Australia's national
drugs strategy. Since then, needle and syringe programs have helped reduce rates of HIV and
hepatitis C infection.

The Department of Health describes the programs as one of the major public health success stories.

But the institutions which have the highest rates of hep C are still denied these programs.

KATE DOLAN, NATIONAL DRUG AND ALCOHOL RESEARCH CENTRE: We've been studying hepatitis C transmission
in prisons in Australia for about nine years now and we don't see any change. About one in three
prisoners who inject drugs gets hepatitis C in prison. Outside, the rate of infection's going down,
but in prison there's been no let up.

STEVE CANNANE: The rate of hepatitis C in the general community is about one per cent. Inside
prison, it's around 30 per cent for men and 50 per cent for women.

Vicky Roach got out of gaol last year. This week, she delivered the keynote address at the
Australian Drugs Conference.

VICKY ROACH, EX-PRISONER: There have been multiple, near-fatal and other very critical overdoses in
the last month.

STEVE CANNANE: Vicky Roach says that sharing needles in gaol is common.

VICKY ROACH: In my experience, while I was inside myself, it was not uncommon for the one needle to
be circulating the whole prison.

STEVE CANNANE: The vast majority of the delegates surveyed at this conference favoured needle and
syringe programs in prison.

getting into gaol; it's failed. We've tried to control the demand for drugs; it's not 100 per cent
effective. We therefore need to control the damage from drug use. That means we need a trial of
needle and syringe programs in the prison system.

STEVE CANNANE: But the Prison Officers' Union is opposed to the idea.

MATT BINDLEY, PRISON OFFICERS' UNION: It's an absurd comment, when you consider that people go to
gaol because some of these people do have drug-related issues, and we're just going to keep feeding
the habit and giving them the utensils to do it. We may as well not put them in gaol.

STEVE CANNANE: This year, the Australian prison system was the closest it's ever been to trialling
a needle and syringe program.

GINO VUMBACA, AUST. NATIONAL COUNCIL ON DRUGS; Recently, the ACT opened their first prison, and I
know at the start of that, they were openly discussing and talking about putting in a needle and
syringe program. We haven't seen that come to fruition. I'm not quite sure why at this stage, but
it is an excellent opportunity with a new prison.

STEVE CANNANE: The ACT Government says it won't consider a trial until the new prison has been
operating for at least 18 months.

JOHN HARGREAVES ACT MINISTER FOR CORRECTIONS: Our task, in fact, is to help people get off drugs
and stay off drugs. And so, we want to see how our programs doing that are going to work, against
the concept of harm minimisation.

STEVE CANNANE: Prison officers fear more needles in gaols could mean more weapons used against

Back in 1990, a prison officer at Long Bay Gaol was attacked with a syringe.

MATT BINDLEY: Well, the history of it is Geoff Pearce was unfortunately stabbed with a HIV-filled
syringe, subsequently died some years later in tragic circumstances just by trying to do his job.
It sticks very badly in all officers' minds and it's something that does come up very quickly when
you do talk about needle exchange programs in the system.

STEVE CANNANE: Needle and syringe programs are already operating in prisons in 11 countries,
including Iran. Kate Dolan says they make prisons safer for officers.

KATE DOLAN: Nobody has been attacked with a needle and syringe in any of these prisons in the
world. What we're doing with the needle and syringe program is we're removing infected syringes out
of circulation and putting them in a safe place. So we're also reducing the needle-stick injury,
which is quite a serious occupational hazard for prison officers.

STEVE CANNANE: Matt Bingley concedes he hasn't looked into the research.

MATT BINDLEY: No, I haven't, and to be honest with you, I haven't looked into those because of our
stance on the needle exchange programs.

STEVE CANNANE: Vicky Roach believes the community beyond the prison system will benefit from a
change in policy.

VICKY ROACH: It will protect the community from blood-borne diseases becoming rampant, as they do
in prison, and as most prisoners all get out eventually, or most of them get out eventually, those
blood-borne diseases come back into the community.

STEVE CANNANE: Steve Cannane, Lateline.