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Press Release from the Lothian and Borders Police: "Needle Exchange Scheme: New initiative to reduce health risks to police staff and reduce harm to drug users"

14th January 2005

0900 hours 14/01/05
Press Office Fettes

Lothian and Borders Police are piloting a needle exchange scheme for prisoners in a bid to reduce health risks to police staff and reduce harm to drug users.

The programme will start operating at St Leonard's Police Station in Edinburgh next month.

It is intended to reduce the risks of staff being infected with potentially lethal diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

It will also build on a welfare drugs referral procedure, already running successfully at the station, for those prisoners who want to give up drugs.

Any prisoner discovered with a used/dirty needle will have it taken off them. A replacement kit will be issued with their property bag when they leave the cells complex.

Research has shown that up to two thirds of the prisoners who pass through the cells complex at St Leonard's are believed to be infected with the virus.

All prisoners are routinely searched before being placed in one of 40 cells at the station. The majority are held for appearance at the city's courts the next morning.

Whilst cells staff are specially trained in search techniques and have access to various items of protective equipment, such as plastic gloves and small tongs, there is currently no foolproof method of finding needles - often little more than the size of a small pencil - without a physical search.

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

Malcolm Dickson, Deputy Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, said: 'The search process is inherently risky and we owe it to our staff to take steps to minimise that risk. A needle injury can be absolutely devastating to a victim, and it should be remembered, to their partners and family too. If this needle exchange programme saves one such incident, I will consider it worthwhile.'

He added: 'People coming into our custody are not permitted to take illegal drugs. This is a welfare-centered approach. As a service, we accept that drug users adopt a lifestyle that most members of the public would not necessarily choose. What we are trying to do here is raise the users's awareness of the dangers associated with that lifestyle, offer them help referral help and support and go some way towards protecting them and others from the very real threat posed by used needles.'

The concept of needle exchange as a precautionary health measure is not new to Edinburgh as drug users already have access to free needles at a special clinic in Spittal Street.

The Harm Reduction team, an offshoot of NHS Lothian, based at Spittal Street, were involved in the planning of the police needle exchange scheme with a lengthy period of consultation. They were also involved in training aspect as well.

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