Needle and syringe programs in WA
In Western Australia, these programs are operated by both government and non-government agencies.
There are 4 main types of needle and syringe programs (NSP):
- Needle and syringe exchange programs (NSEPs) supply free sterile needles and syringes conditional on the return of used items. These are run through a combination of fixed-sites, outreach and mobile services.
- Pharmacy-based NSPs are run on a commercial basis supplying needles and syringes to people who inject drugs.
- Health service-based NSPs provide sterile injecting equipment at no cost to clients through regional hospitals, public health units, community health centres, community drug services and other health services.
- Needle and syringe vending machines (NSVM) are self-service devices which dispense sterile injecting equipment on a cost-recovery basis.
Pharmacies and health services usually do not take back or exchange used needles and syringes.
All NSP services must supply a safe disposal container with any needles and syringes they provide.
More than half of all needles and syringes are distributed in Western Australia through NSEPs. Pharmacies, health services and vending machines distribute the rest.
Find out where you can find NSP services in WA.
Distribution of needles and syringes to people who inject drugs is legal
The Western Australian Poisons Regulations 1965 (external site) authorises approved organisations to provide sterile injecting equipment to people who inject drugs.
Any organisation that operates an NSP must meet specific requirements as stated in the Poisons Regulations 1965 and be approved under the Poisons Act 1964 (external site) by the Chief Executive Officer of the WA Department of Health.
There is no minimum age to access a needle and syringe program
The Poisons Regulations only refers to NSP clients as a ‘person’. It does not mention a minimum age at which a person may need access or be denied access to an NSP.
However, it is recommended that NSP staff decide whether refusing access to NSP services will pose a potential health risk to juvenile clients (for example clients under the age of 18).
It is therefore recommended that when developing their policies, NSPs have clear guidelines about young people accessing sterile injecting equipment.
Why does the Department of Health provide needles and syringes to people who inject drugs and not to diabetics?
Despite education about the harms associated with drug use and information on drug treatment programs, many people will continue to inject drugs. One of the major risks associated with injecting is the transmission of blood-borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
NSPs are one of the main strategies to prevent the spread of blood-borne viruses among injecting drug users and the wider community. Some NSPs do provide free needles and syringes for injecting drug users.
People with diabetes can access free needles and syringes under the National Diabetic Services Scheme. For more information please contact Diabetes WA (external site) on 1300 136 58.
Where to get help
- See your doctor
- Visit a GP afterhours
- Ring healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222
- Different types of needle and syringe programs are offered across WA.
- Some supply free sterile needles and syringes when used items are returned while others may sell these items.
- Not all programs accept or exchange used needles and syringes, but all must supply a safe disposal container with any needles and syringes they provide.
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.