Pubdate: Tue, 2 Feb 1999
Source: Canberra Times (Australia)
Author: Catriona Jackson, Health Reporter


Canberra's needle-exchange program was under no threat, Health
Minister Michael Moore said yesterday, in the wake of a NSW
needle-exchange inquiry, announced after pictures of a 16-year-old
injecting drugs in Redfern were published in Sydney's Sun Herald. NSW
Health Minister Dr Andrew Refshauge said on Sunday that he had been so
shocked by the pictures he had suspended the needle exchange in
Caroline Lane, Redfern, and later announced an internal review, to be
completed after the March 27 state election.

The newspaper had published the boy's age as 12 or 13, but police said
yesterday that he was 16.

Every young person approaching a needle exchange in the ACT was
counselled, Mr Moore said, "but where a young person decides to inject
a drug it is far better for them to do so with a clean needle".

He said "diseases like HIV and hepatitis C don't respect

"The choices we have are about trying to rescue our

There was no legal barrier to handing out clean needles to young
people in the ACT, according to Maureen Cane, of the ACT's Drug
Referral and Information Centre, which runs the 17 exchanges in the

The Drugs of Dependance Act was "silent" on the issue of age, she
said, partly because determining age was difficult, but more
importantly because "if someone is determined to inject themselves,
our concern is to protect them from catching HIV or hepatitis C".

According to the detailed records kept by the service, there were few
very young users in the ACT.

Ms Cane said there was a dearth of adolescent rehabilitation and
detoxification centres across the country, and in the ACT, and they
were the best way to help young drug users. They needed to be helped
back into school, or work, before irreparable damage was done. Mr
Moore said a draft of the Evaluation of ACT Drug Strategy report, to
be issued later this week, would strongly support the idea of drug
rehabilitation centres specifically for adolescents.

Up to 55,000 clean needles were handed out in the ACT each month, with
the bulk being distributed in Civic. General manager of the ACT AIDS
Action Council Mike Kennedy said there was a desperate need to
separate policing from public-health issues.

National Council on Drugs chairman, the Salvation Army's Major Brian
Watters, said Dr Refshauge's decision seemed hasty. "I would ask for
people to avoid using the whole problem of drugs as any sort of a
political football or to gain votes as being seen to be tough on drugs
or the law and order-type issues associated with drugs," he said on
ABC Radio. 

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