The number of young Australians injecting drugs has declined over 20 years, heroin and methamphetamine remain the two most commonly reported drugs last injected, and transmission of HIV related to injecting drug use has been efficiently contained, according to a 20 year report released today by the Kirby Institute at UNSW Australia.
The report presents national and jurisdictional data from the Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey from 1995 to 2014. Around two thirds of Australia’s primary Needle and Syringe Program services participate in the survey and program attendees have participated on more than 45,000 occasions.
“One of the most important and striking findings of the 20 year report is that HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs has remained exceptionally low in Australia – below 2.1%,” said Dr Jenny Iversen, lead author of the report from the Kirby Institute. “This speaks to the absolute success of Australia’s harm reduction efforts. When you compare that prevalence rate with the experience of countries like the US, where there is a federal ban on funding for needle and syringe programs and we are seeing a surge in HIV rates among people who inject drugs, you start to get a picture of the crucial role NSPs play in supporting a successful response to epidemics like HIV and hepatitis C.”
The Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey functions as a strategic early-warning system designed to monitor blood borne viral infections and associated risk behaviour among people who inject drugs.
“Our ability to collect this important data means that the dramatic surge in HIV that some states in the US are currently experiencing is unlikely to happen here,” said Annie Madden from the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) - Australia’s peak body for people who inject drugs. “Not only do we have a strong network of preventative services, we also have a comprehensive annual monitoring system in place, which means that any upward trend in new HIV cases would be flagged early enough to allow for a swift public health intervention strategy. It really is a major success story in the Australian response to blood-borne viruses.”
The survey is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and is supported by a National Advisory Group comprising representatives from state and territory Health Departments, Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs) and AIVL.