The National Drug Strategy articulates harm minimisation as its guiding principle. This strategy addresses the actual harms associated with alcohol and other drug use and how these harms can be prevented or reduced. “Harm reduction” is part of the overall harm minimisation approach, aimed at keeping people (who choose not to abstain) safe from injurious drug use behaviours, including harms from blood borne viruses.
Safer injecting: Hepatitis B and C can both be acquired through sharing injecting equipment. If people choose to inject drugs, following these guidelines will reduce the possibility of the transmission of blood borne viruses.
- NEVER share needles or syringes and any other injecting equipment including: spoons, swabs, tourniquets, water or filters. Infected blood in microscopic amounts which can’t be seen, but are enough to transmit blood borne viruses can be present in or on any of these items..
- Wash hands before AND after every hit to make sure blood is not being spread. This applies whether people are self injecting or assisting someone else.
- Apply pressure to the injection site to stop bleeding as soon as possible.
- Dispose of anything with blood on it by putting it in two plastic bags (double-bagging) and putting it into the general domestic waste.
- Dispose of used needles and syringes (fits) safely by putting them back into a Fitpack®, into a plastic bottle or container with a lid or into the disposal containers provided by a Needle and Syringe Exchange Program (NSEP) service (see below). Used needles and syringes can be returned the NSEP’s for disposal or exchange, or can be disposed of in the yellow needle and syringe disposal bins available in most public toilets and other public places.
Sharing injecting equipment is not recommended, however if sharing equipment is the only option see below. How to clean needles and syringes (fits): (courtesy of the Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL). (2009). A Guide to Cleaning Used Syringes... When there's no other way... [pamphlet]. Canberra: AIVL)
Start with a clean safe space and an area with a safe place to dispose of the used fluids such as a sink, drain or toilet. You will need three separate containers:
A. One container filled with clean cold tap water. If available add a little detergent as this helps loosen the blood particles so they are easier to rinse away. Use water from the cold tap. If the water is too hot or too cold it can cause any blood in the syringe to congeal and stick inside the syringe where it can shed microscopic particles/virus into your mix.
B. One container filled with full strength bleach (at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite and check the use by date) for soaking/bleaching your syringe.
C. One container filled with clean, cold tap water for rinsing the bleach from your syringe. Wash your hands in warm soapy water before you start.
Remember there are three separate steps to this process: rinsing, bleaching and flushing. They all have to be done for the right amount of time in the right order.
A. Rinsing: Draw up detergent water or plain water from the first container (A) and fill up the syringe. Squirt the water into your sink. Repeat at least 5 times. Empty the container of used water down your sink.
B. Bleaching: Take the syringe apart and put it in the second container (B), make sure it is completely covered by bleach (don’t forget the cap). You may have to put something on top to hold it under the bleach. Soak for at least two minutes. If you can’t soak it, draw the bleach up into the syringe and shake it for at least 30 seconds. Put the cap on to prevent bleach getting on clothes or in eyes. Count slowly to make sure the bleach has enough contact time with any virus present. Counting “one thousand two thousand”… up to “thirty thousand” is a good way to measure, try not to rush. Squirt this bleach into sink. Repeat at least once. Discard used bleach from container down the sink.
C. Flushing: Draw up fresh water from the third container (C). This should be the only filled container left. Squirt the water out into the sink. Give the syringe a shake while flushing. Repeat this process at least six times. Don’t forget to rinse the cap. Why use detergent in the rinsing process? Detergent helps clean any residual blood or mix out of the syringe more effectively than just water alone; it helps bind the blood together with the detergent particles and becomes easier to wash out. Why Bleach? Other methods of trying to clean used syringes have been researched e.g. boiling, microwaving, and rinsing with alcohol swabs. None of these have been shown to be helpful. Boiling destroys your syringe, it melts, and you can’t microwave metal and the process is not effective anyway. Bleach is the best and only real option we have at the present.
Needle and Syringe Exchange Programs (NSEP)
NSEP’s provide a safe means for disposing of used equipment and offer one-for-one exchanges to ensure sterile equipment is easily available. NSEP’s also sell a range of other injecting equipment such as water ampoules, tourniquets, spoons, filters and swabs at low cost. Items such as condoms and dams are also available. NSEP’s are run by trained staff who are able to offer information regarding safer injecting and safer sex, or can make referrals to treatment, medical attention, social/monetary assistance or counseling.
The main providers of NSEP’s in Perth are the WA Substance Users Association (WASUA) and the WA AIDS Council (WAAC).
WASUA is a peer-based organisation, which provides drug use education, support, medical services and clean equipment. They are located at: 519 Murray Street, West Perth (corner of Elder and Murray Street).
WASUA is open: Sat to Wed between 10am and 4pm; Thurs and Friday between 10am and 8pm.
The WASUA health clinic is open on Tuesday and Thursday, between 10am and 4pm.
Free hepatitis A and B vaccinations are available for people living with hepatitis C.
Free, confidential blood testing can also be done on-site. For further information on these services, please phone (08) 9321 2877.
WAAC provides needle and syringe exchanges, sale of new equipment at low cost, disposal of used equipment and safer sex equipment. Friendly advice, information and referral are also available.
WAAC operate a fixed site at: 664 Murray Street, West Perth and also operate a mobile NSEP service from a van which visits various locations around the Perth metropolitan area. For further information on this service, or to request a timetable, please phone (08) 9482 0000 or 0417 093 537.
Alternatively, FitPacks are available from most pharmacies and, in rural and regional areas, from hospitals and some Community Health centres. These services are known as Needle Syringe Programs or NSPs.
HepatitisWA offers a limited NSP service, providing FitStick packs free of charge, along with swabs, spoons and sterile water. We carry a small range of stock – disposable tourniquets, sterifilts and hirudoid cream which is available at cost price.
Our hours are Monday to Friday 10.00am to 4.30pm and we are located at 187 Beaufort Street Northbridge, just north of Newcastle Street. Free, confidential blood testing can be done on-site by appointment. For further information on our services please call 9328 8538.
Page last updated: Thursday 30 September, 2010