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"Police station prisoners to be handed free needles" by Gareth Edwards, Edinburgh Evening News

14th January 2005

Prisoners are to be given free needles by police after it emerged that two-thirds of drug addicts taken into custody in the city are infected with hepatitis C or HIV.

The new scheme is intended to decrease the risk of police officers being jabbed by hidden syringes while searching suspected criminals.

Backers believe drug users will be more willing to hand over their dirty needles if they receive new ones upon their release.

Lothian and Borders Police Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Dickson today predicted the move would reduce the chances of officers becoming infected with such diseases.

"We are not condoning or encouraging drug use, but we cannot be ignorant about the fact that people are going to take drugs, whether or not we tell them not to," he said.

"A programme like this is about reducing the potential harm to both the police and to the user."

All prisoners are routinely searched before being placed in one of 40 holding cells at St Leonard's police station - where people arrested in Edinburgh are generally held overnight.

Research has shown that about two-thirds of the 6000 prisoners who use drugs who pass through the station's cells every year are infected with the hepatitis C virus. Many also have HIV.

Needle injuries to police personnel are not uncommon and victims face an anxious wait of up to three months before they can be given the results of blood tests.

 © Edinburgh Evening News

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