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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 October, 2004, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Addicted inmates may get needles
Needle and heroin
Experts concede drugs are a fact of life in prisons
Drug-using prisoners may be given clean needles under a scheme being considered by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

The service has confirmed it is considering handing out kits to inmates as part of a harm-reduction programme.

Addiction in prisons is widespread and the step could be taken to halt the spread of diseases such as hepatitis C caused by needle sharing.

Last week, a BBC Frontline Scotland investigation highlighted the ease with which inmates could get drugs.

Dr Andrew Fraser, head of healthcare for the SPS, told the Scotland on Sunday newspaper: "We will look at some of the leading-edge things like needle exchanges.

"Prisoners are not meant to have drugs, to be buying, selling or sharing them. But we are very worried about hepatitis C and we know people are catching hepatitis C in prison.

Expert advice

"We have yet to work out all the practicalities. We are meeting with experts from other countries this week to look at how they get around the issue of handing syringes out, and also what to put in the kits.

"But we have got to acknowledge that drugs come into prisons. The clean needles would be given out by health workers, and other prison staff would have to respect that they have a job to do."

A spokesman for the SPS said: "It would be naive not to acknowledge that drugs don't enter prisons and therefore we must look to provide a harm-reduction package, for those prisoners who do not want to address their addiction issues, to help combat problems such as the spread of disease."

It is suggested the kits could contain paraphernalia used in the process of injecting drugs, including a syringe, swabs, filters, foil or even spoons, and a sharps disposal box.

The move is at the discretion of the SPS and does not need to be approved by ministers.

It would require a change in prison rules but not a change in the law.

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