Public opinion on needle and syringe programmes: avoiding assumptions for policy and practice Academic Article uri icon


  • Despite evidence for their effectiveness, harm reduction services such as needle and syringe programmes (NSPs) are highly vulnerable to perceptions of community disapproval. This paper reviews Australian research on community attitudes to harm reduction services and its impact on research, policy and practice. The literature on community attitudes to NSPs in Australia comprises a small number of representative national samples and surveys of local communities affected by specific services. Despite these extremely limited data, negative community attitudes are often cited by policy-makers and health professionals as a primary constraint on policy-making. The main finding of this literature review is that community perceptions of NSPs are largely positive. Also, support for NSPs was not synonymous with condoning drug use. The failure of policy-makers and politicians to recognise positive community attitudes to NSPs has led in some instances to hasty political responses to adverse media reports, including the closure of services. This literature review showing positive community attitudes to harm reduction services should embolden researchers, practitioners and policy-makers to challenge such reactionary responses. Further, this evidence should be used in countering negative publicity surrounding these services.

publication date

  • July 2007