Australian Institute of Criminology

Skip to content

Australian responses to illicit drugs : Harm reduction strategies

A reduction in drug related harm is one of the priorities of the National Drug Strategy 2004-2009. Harm reduction can include education programs to increase public awareness of drug issues and treatment options, treatment programs, and initiatives aimed at reducing the risk of health problems for drug users.

Medically Supervised Injecting Centre

A single Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) operates in Australia. It is located in Sydney and supported by legislation arising from the New South Wales Drug Summit in 1999. After an initial trial period, the legislation was amended in 2003 to allow the facility to operate until 2007.

People accessing the MSIC are able to inject illicit drugs under supervision. This reduces possible harm as they are within a clean and controlled environment, have access to new syringes and needles and can be treated immediately if an overdose occurs. The centre is staffed by medical and counselling staff and has a resuscitation room. In the first 18 months of operation, 3810 individuals used the MSIC, making 56831 visits and the staff attended 329 overdoses.

The centre has three stages. During the first stage clients are assessed to ensure they meet the age and health requirements. In stage two, they self-administer intravenous drugs which include heroin, amphetamines and benzodiazepines. No drugs are provided by the centre. Time spent in the third stage can be used to access services and wait until they are ready to leave.

Similar centres operate in Canada, Sweden, Spain and Germany.

Further information


Needle and syringe programs

Needle and syringe programs have operated for a number of years throughout Australia. The aim of the programs is to reduce the health risks involved in the sharing of needles and syringes and to a lesser extent, the risk of needlestick injuries to the non-using community from poorly discarded needles.

Programs are run by a range of government funded and non-government organisations. In 2004, the Australian Government provided in excess of $38 million for these programs and is investing $17.4 million over three years to assist in the development of retractable needle and syringe technology.

Further information



Problematic drug use, both licit and illicit, has been recognised as a health issue for a number of years. All states and territories offer a range of treatment options for people with problematic drug use. Some options include residential treatment, withdrawal management, pharmacotherapy and counselling for the drug user and their family.

For some users, methadone or a similar opiate-type drug is prescribed as a part of a maintenance regime. These drugs reduce the peaks and troughs associated with heroin use, allowing the user to better manage day to day life or reduce the amount of heroin they use. The drugs are prescribed by an authorised medical practitioner and in most instances the drug is consumed at the pharmacy.

Further information



Treatment programs are available in all Australian correctional systems including many Australian prisons. All jurisdictions provide detoxification programs for those entering the prison system and access to methadone. Harm reduction education programs are provided in all states except Queensland, and peer-based programs are offered in three states.

To reduce the possible spread of blood-borne infectious diseases, hepatitis B vaccinations are available to prisoners, but this availability varies between areas. No needle exchange programs are available in Australian gaols although bleach can be obtained in five jurisdictions.

The NSW Government has indicated that it will establish a compulsory drug treatment correctional centre by the end of 2005. The Drug Court would order and supervise the detention, with the centre to accommodate up to 100 "hard core" drug offenders.

Further information