Healthy living

Needle and syringe programs in WA

Needle and syringe programs (NSPs) provide sterile needles and syringes to people who inject drugs (PWID).

This helps prevent people who inject drugs from getting blood-borne viruses such as HIV/AIDShepatitis C and hepatitis B.

NSPs provide a range of services, including:

  • education and information
  • sterile injecting equipment and disposal items
  • referral to other services.

Needle and syringe programs:

  • do not condone drug use – NSPs are a harm reduction strategy. While they do not condone the use of drugs, they acknowledge that these behaviours occur and seek to reduce related harms to individuals and the general community. For more information about harm minimisation and harm reduction see the National Drug Strategy 2017–2026 (external site).
  • do encourage the safe disposal of needles and syringes – needles and syringes are always provided with a container to dispose of used items safely. In addition, NSP staff are trained to provide information and education to clients to encourage safer injecting practices and safer disposal.

Find NSP services in WA

Types of NSPs

In Western Australia NSP are operated by both government and non-government agencies.

There are four main types of NSP:

  • needle and syringe exchange programs (NSEPs) supply free sterile needles and syringes on the return of used items. These are run through a combination of fixed-sites, outreach and mobile services
  • pharmacy-based NSPs are run on a commercial basis supplying needles and syringes to people who inject drugs
  • health service-based NSPs provide sterile injecting equipment at no cost to people who inject drugs through regional hospitals, public health units, community health centres, community drug services and other health services
  • needle and syringe vending machines (NSVM) and needle and syringe dispensing machines (NSDM) are self-service devices which dispense sterile injecting equipment on either a cost-recovery basis (NSVM) or for free (NSDM).

Most pharmacies and health services do not take back or exchange used needles and syringes. Contact your local pharmacy or health service to find out if they do accept used needles and syringes.

Community benefits of NSPs

Needle and syringe programs:

  • reduce the incidence of sharing and re-using of injecting equipment – this reduces the spread of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C among people who inject drugs and the wider community
  • reduce other health harms that may result from injecting drugs
  • are often the only contact that people who inject drugs have with the health system
  • provide people who inject drugs with information on safer injecting and on drug treatment services
  • encourage the safe disposal of needles and syringes by people who inject drugs
  • work together with drug treatment and education services to reduce drug-related harm in our community
  • are cost-effective – if untreated HIV can cause AIDS, and hepatitis C can cause liver disease and other serious illnesses, and treating these diseases costs far more than preventing them through programs like NSPs.
    • It was estimated that between 2000 and 2009 NSPs avoided 32,050 HIV infections and 96,667 hepatitis C infections, resulting in $1.28 billion saved in healthcare costs (DoHA 2009).
    • for every one dollar invested in NSPs, more than four dollars were returned (additional to the investment) in healthcare cost-savings in the short-term (ten years) if only direct costs are included; greater returns are expected over longer time horizons (DoHA 2009).
Distribution of needles and syringes

Distribution of needles and syringes to people who inject drugs is legal

The Medicines and Poisons Act 2014 (external Site) and the Medicines and Poisons Regulations 2016 (external Site) provides the framework for approving organisations to provide sterile injecting equipment to people who inject drugs.

Any organisation that operates an NSP must meet specific requirements as stated in the Medicines and Poisons Regulations 2016 and be approved by the Chief Executive Officer of the WA Department of Health.

Why does the Department of Health provide needles and syringes to people who inject drugs and not to diabetics?

Despite education about the harms associated with drug use and information on drug treatment programs, many people will continue to inject drugs. One of the major risks associated with injecting is the transmission of blood-borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Diabetes WA (external site) (call on 1300 001 880) can provide information for those requiring/undergoing treatment for diabetes, and on disposal of diabetic needles. For more information on where to access needles and syringes for medical reasons please talk to your local GP or health worker.

People who inject drugs

People who inject drugs do not fall into any particular ethnic or socio-economic group, and do not live solely in urban settings. Approximately one quarter of the total number of needles and syringes are distributed in WA by non-metropolitan NSPs.

It is difficult to estimate the number of people who inject drugs due to the illegal nature of the activity. Not every PWID injects daily. Some drug users may inject drugs occasionally or only on weekends. Some people may also try drugs experimentally.

Where to get help


  • Needle and syringe programs (NSPs) provide sterile needles and syringes to people who inject drugs and there are different types of NSPs offered across WA.
  • NSPs do not condone drug use and encourage the safe disposal of needles and syringes by people who inject drugs.
  • These programs offer benefits to both people who inject drugs and the wider community.

Last reviewed: 04-05-2023

Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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