BACKGROUND: Effective targeting of harm reduction programs for people who inject drugs (PWID) requires timely and robust estimates of the size of this population. This study estimated the number of people who inject drugs on a regular basis in Australia, calculated syringe coverage per person and the proportion of their injections covered by a sterile needle and syringe. METHODS: We used trends in indicators of injection drug use to extend the 2005 estimate of the population of people who regularly inject drugs from 2005 to 2016. Included indicators were lifetime/recent injection of illicit drugs, drug-related arrests, drug-related seizures, accidental deaths due to opioids, opioid-related hospital admissions/separations and new diagnoses of hepatitis C virus infection among those aged 15-24 years. Syringe distribution and frequency of injection data were used to assess syringe coverage per PWID and the proportion of their injections covered by a sterile syringe. RESULTS: The estimated number of people who regularly inject drugs in Australia increased by 7%, from 72,000 in 2005 to 77,270 in 2016. The annual number of syringes distributed per person increased 34%, from 470 syringes in 2005 to 640 syringes in 2016. Syringe coverage per injection first exceeded 100% in Australia in 2013. CONCLUSIONS: Despite Australia’s high syringe coverage by international standards, the number of syringes distributed is likely to be only narrowly meeting demand. It is critical that needle syringe programs be provided with sufficient resources to continue their role as the key intervention required to prevent HIV and HCV transmission among PWID.
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