OUR SAY | Needle dispensing machines are needed to minimise harm

Harm minimisation: two words guaranteed to cause controversy when it comes to discussion about the use of illegal drugs.

On the one hand you have people who argue that illicit drug use is an illegal activity, a scourge on society, a drain on health funding and no quarter should be given. On the other side there’s acceptance that, despite the legalities, people will continue to use and should be helped to minimise the harm to themselves and to society in general.

Throughout all this there is one certainty – that illegal drug use does happen and will continue, and it’s best and safest for users and for the community if measures are put in place to help those who use drugs to stay as safe and as healthy as they can and to be responsible in their disposal of dangerous needles.

Ballarat Community Health offers a needle and syringe exchange service during business hours at four sites around Ballarat where syringes/needles, swabs and disposal containers are provided free, along with a disposal service for used needles.

There has already been controversy on our Facebook page this morning.

But drug use is not restricted to business hours, so why should safety measures be limited to those times?

A planning application from UnitingCare for a syringe disposal machine at their facility in Dana Street may court controversy, but trials of syringe vending machines in other states and regional areas has found their presence does not cause problems or an increase in the amount of dangerously discarded needles.

The units dispense clean syringes and other safety items, filling a dangerous gap in which users cannot access clean equipment outside of health service operating hours.

Similar units have been installed throughout Victoria since their first trials in 2014, and there have been more than 100 syringe vending machines installed at scores of different locations in New South Wales since they were first trialled way back in 1992.

Surely it is makes more sense to supply clean equipment that reduces the re-use and sharing of needles and, in turn, eliminates the risk of infectious blood-borne diseases than to treat someone who has contracted a life-changing or possibly fatal disease.

Diabetics will also be able to access the machine if they require needles for their own treatment.

UnitingCare hopes to get the go-ahead for their plan from Ballarat Council in the coming weeks.