Snapshot
History
Types of programs
Barriers and challenges

Snapshot

  • Number of NSPs: 19 (2 primary, 5 secondary, 12 pharmacies)
  • Syringes distributed in 1999-2000: 604,000 (estimated)
  • Approximate cost: $373,000 per annum (estimated)

History

Needle and Syringe Programs have been operating in the Northern Territory since in 1989, when the Northern Territory AIDS Council (NTAC) and the AIDS Council of Central Australia (ACOCA) were established. In late 1990/early 1991, the distribution of needles and syringes through pharmacies in Darwin commenced. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1990 requires the licensing of positions within particular agencies to distribute needles and syringes. To date, 19 licenses have been granted. In addition, all medical practitioners and pharmacists are automatically authorised to distribute needles and syringes.

Injecting drug use in the Northern Territory differs significantly from other states and the ACT. The most commonly injected drugs in Darwin are prescribed opioids (particularly morphine) and amphetamines. Supply of morphine has recently shrunk due to the regulation of the distribution of morphine through General Practitioners. This pattern is different in Alice Springs where the supply of heroin is more common.

Types of programs

The two AIDS Councils (Darwin and Alice Springs) are the primary NSP outlets in the Northern Territory. Between them they distribute the majority of the 500,000 needles and syringes disseminated through NSPs in the NT each year. Supplementing the primary outlets are five secondary outlets operating through NT Health Service's sexual health clinics and Accident and Emergency Departments at each of the hospitals (located at Darwin, East Arnhem Land, Catherine, Tenant Creek and Alice Springs).

In addition to needles and syringes, primary outlets provide swabs and disposal units. Other items (such as condoms and injecting paraphernalia) may be provided on a cost-recovery basis through the core budget of the AIDS Councils. The services provided by the primary NSPs include education, advocacy, disposal, referral and support.
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Needles and syringes are also distributed through commercial pharmacies. On commercial terms, pharmacies in the NT purchase "fit kits" from a third party source (either NT AIDS Council or suppliers from other states). These kits (consisting of 5 syringes and a disposal pack) are purchased for around $3 and sold through pharmacies for between $4 and $6. It is not known how many of these kits are sold annually, but it is estimated to account for an additional 5-10% per annum (perhaps as many as 50,000 syringes).

The NT AIDS Council and Darwin City Council have collaborated to provide 10 disposal units in the Darwin area. The first of these was installed into the Casuarina Library in 1998. Prior to that, the only disposal facilities were located at NTAC and the Darwin Airport (men's toilets). Disposal units are also located in the male and female toilets at Alice Springs Airport.

Barriers and challenges

Like many other jurisdictions, NSPs in the Territory are a highly political issue and public perceptions have some influence over policy decisions. In recent times, increased cost recovery has been looked at and, accordingly, consideration is being given to strategies to increase the role of pharmacies as a major point of needle and syringe distribution. The other significant issue is that of disposal. On a regular basis the problem of needle and syringe disposal emerges and community debate ensues. The NT is currently developing a database to identify disposal hotspots. Contributing to the disposal issue is the fact that no pharmacy currently accepts used injecting equipment. Steps are being taken to provide bulk disposal facilities.

The legislative framework in the NT provides that needles and syringes can only be issued by licensed positions (as described above). This creates a difficulty when people in authorised positions are unavailable.

COAG funding has been provided for the establishment of an NSP in the suburb of Palmerston in Darwin. Prior to the NT Government issuing a license, it has required that the Palmerston Council support the new NSP. This support has not yet been forthcoming and, accordingly, the Palmerston NSP is yet to commence.