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IPRT welcomes Minister Noel Ahern's support for Prison Syringe Exchange

21st September 2004

Irish Penal Reform Trust has welcomed Minister Noel Ahern's support for prison syringe exchange programmes.  The Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy offered support for prison syringe exchange as part of a comprehensive harm reduction strategy to reduce Hepatitis C and HIV transmission amongst prisoners.

"Minister Ahern is to be commended for providing sensible and pragmatic leadership on this issue," said IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines. "International evidence on the success of prison syringe exchange programmes, as well as international prison health guidelines, clearly support the provision of sterile syringes to injecting drug using prisoners.  The Minister is absolutely correct to raise this issue within his mandate to oversee the National Drugs Strategy."

Prison syringe exchange programmes are currently operating in over 50 prisons in six countries.  Scientific evaluations of these programmes have consistently found that 1) they do not increase drug use or drug injecting among prisoners, 2) they reduce the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C and improve overall prisoner health and 3) they do not create a safety problem or lead to syringes being used as weapons against prisoners or prison staff.

The IPRT has been an outspoken advocate for the provision of sterile injecting equipment to prisoners.  In May, IPRT Executive Director Rick Lines was invited to present on the issue before the delegates of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna.  In July, joint IPRT research on the success of prison syringe exchange programmes was presented at the XV International Conference on AIDS in Bangkok

The IPRT also rubbished Justice Minister Michael McDowell's opposition to these effective public health programmes.  "Minister McDowell's statement that prison syringe exchange is a 'recipe for disaster' is irresponsible, and shows the degree to which his Department is out of touch with international best practice and accepted international guidelines from the World Health Organization and others," said Mr. Lines.  "If there is a real recipe for disaster, it is when governments jeopardise public health by ignoring international evidence in favour of political posturing.  Minister Ahern's brave comments are a welcome step away from this tired approach, which we hope will be an important step towards the implementation of evidence-based drugs policy in Irish prisons."

The IPRT will be releasing a new report Prison Needle Exchange: Lessons from A Comprehensive Review of International Evidence and Experience in mid-October.

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