ReGen calls for calm in response to Sunbury ‘needlestick outrage’ (26/03/13)

Melbourne, VIC, 26th March 2013 – UnitingCare ReGen, the lead alcohol and other drug treatment and education agency of UnitingCare Victoria & Tasmania, today urged members of the Sunbury community to avoid the type of kneejerk response to a recent needlestick injury as that demonstrated by local councillor Jack Medcraft (The Sunbury Leader, ‘Needlestick outrage’, 26th March).

Melbourne, VIC, 26th March 2013 – UnitingCare ReGen, the lead alcohol and other drug treatment and education agency of UnitingCare Victoria & Tasmania, today urged members of the Sunbury community to avoid the type of kneejerk response to a recent needlestick injury as that demonstrated by local councillor Jack Medcraft (The Sunbury Leader, ‘Needlestick outrage’, 26th March). 

ReGen CEO, Laurence Alvis, said:

Let’s keep this in perspective. 

While it is natural for people to fear the possible consequences of needlestick injuries (particularly around parks or playgrounds), the actual risks to people’s health are relatively low.  It is important to remind people that, to date, there has been not a single recorded case in Australia of blood-borne virus transmission following a needlestick injury in a public place.

Any needlestick injury should be taken seriously and receive medical treatment, but should not be a cause for panic.  The chances of actually contracting a blood-borne virus like HIV or Hepatitis B or C from a used needle are very, very low as these viruses can only survive for a very short time outside the body. 

As with any puncture wound there would also be a low level risk of tetanus, but this can be remedied by arranging a booster shot.  Probably the greatest risk would be of developing a bacterial infection at the site of the wound.

Over 30 million needles and syringes are distributed each year to members of the public through Australia’s Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs, commonly known as ‘needle exchanges’), including the program run by Dianella Community Health in Hume and ReGen’s main site in Coburg.  NSPs have consistently been proven to dramatically reduce the harms associated with injecting drug use and play an essential role in preventing the transmission of blood-borne viruses.  These programs save the Australian health system many millions of dollars each year.

While it was irresponsible of the person concerned to leave the syringe in the playground, the inconsiderate actions of one person hardly justify councillor Medcraft’s ‘outrage’, nor his implied vilification of the many people who use NSP services in Victoria. 

The stigmatisation of people who inject drugs in our community only drives this behaviour further underground, increasing the likelihood of inappropriately discarded injecting equipment as people seek to evade detection.  While it appears that the family of the injured girl have responded sensibly to the incident, councillor Medcraft’s populist tub-thumping does nothing to increase community awareness of the actual risks, or practical strategies to reduce potential harm.

Mr Alvis suggested that there were three basic steps to follow if community members find a syringe in a public place:

  1. Alert any people nearby of the presence of the syringe;
  2. Ring your local council (or the Victorian Needle and Syringe Program: 1300 365 482) to arrange the removal of the syringe;
  3. If you feel the presence of the syringe poses an immediate danger to the public, and you feel confident to remove it yourself, then find a puncture-proof container, place it on the ground next to the syringe, pick up the syringe by the plunger end and put it in the container.  Then request removal of the syringe as above (do not place it in a rubbish bin as it will still pose an injury risk to others).

Ends

For further information or comment please contact Laurence Alvis on (03) 9384 8880 or media contact Paul Aiken on 0435 875 818.

Background about ReGen:  UnitingCare ReGen is the lead alcohol and other drugs treatment and education agency of UnitingCare Victoria & Tasmania. We have been promoting health and reducing alcohol and other drug related harm since 1970.  We support social justice and sustainable change at an individual, community and systemic level.