Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Pharmacy Needle and Syringe Program (PNSP)?

Many people rely on needles, lancets or syringes to manage medical conditions and maintain their health. Pharmacy plays an important role in the community by providing safe methods of disposal and clean injecting equipment for customers who use sharps.

The PNSP is funded via Queensland Health and is administered by The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Queensland Branch.

As part of the PNSP, participating community pharmacies:

  • Order a range of Queensland Health clean injecting equipment (sharps packs) using the approved PNSP process.  The Queensland Health clean injecting equipment (sharps packs) are supplied free of charge to the pharmacy.
  • Supply the Queensland Health clean injecting equipment (sharps packs) to customers for a set fee of $3 (incl. GST) per pack.
  • Receive a free 120L sharps disposal bin for disposal of community generated sharps waste. Collection, transportation and incineration of the sharps waste is provided free of charge.
  • Receive staff training on harm minimisation principles and program support.

Who funds the PNSP?

Queensland Health, via the Queensland Needle and Syringe Program and the Communicable Diseases Unit. In Australia, the program is the single most important and cost-effective strategy in reducing drug-related harm among injecting drug users. Australian governments invested $130 million in Needle and Syringe Programs between 1991 and 2000 resulting in the prevention of an estimated 25,000 HIV infections and 21,000 hepatitis C infections, with savings from avoided treatment costs of up to $7.8 billion (1).

Why are people who inject drugs provided with sterile needles and syringes?

Needle and Syringe Programs are an important public health measure. These programs have prevented people from sharing injecting equipment and have thus prevented the spread of HIV among people who inject drugs.

This has meant that in Australia, HIV infection is very rare among both injecting drug users and the wider community. In some countries, such as the United States and parts of Europe, where Needle and Syringe Programs were not established in time, HIV spread rapidly among injecting drug users and to the wider community through sexual contact. In Australia, the level of HIV infection among people who inject drugs has remained around 1%, compared to other countries with levels over 50%.

  • Needle and Syringe Programs reduce HIV infection among drug injectors. This means that when people stop injecting drugs, as most do, it is more likely that they will be HIV negative.
  • Needle and Syringe Programs have prevented thousands of cases of HIV and hepatitis C infection among people who inject drugs and in turn have protected the wider community (2)

What support services are available to injecting drug users?

Primary and Secondary Needle and Syringe Program sites offer support services and referral services for injecting drug users. Click here for a list of all the primary and secondary sites in Queensland.

For information regarding the location of your nearest alcohol, tobacco and other drug service, please call the 24-hour Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 1800 177 833.

What useful information can I provide to people who inject drugs?

The aim of the PNSP is to reduce the incidence of blood borne viruses and injecting related injuries and disease.

The following documents maybe be useful to educate about safe injecting practices and ways to minimise the transmission of various infections.

How do I explain safe disposal of sharps waste to customers?

Community generated sharps waste must be housed in a rigid-walled, puncture resistant container with a secure lid. This is the safest way to minimise the  risk of a needle stick injury to anyone who may come into contact with the sharps waste. This includes customers, pharmacy staff and the contractors who collect the 120L sharps disposal bins.

If a customer returns sharps waste in an inappropriate container or as loose sharps, the staff member should inform the customer that the pharmacy is unable to accept sharps waste unless contained in an appropriate sharps disposal container. The staff member can offer the customer the option of purchasing an appropriate sharps disposal container if available.The customer should place the used sharps in the purchased appropriate sharps disposal container. Appropriate sharps disposal containers (e.g. 1.4L, 1.5L or 3.1L) can be purchased by pharmacies to sell from several pharmacy wholesalers.

It is important for community safety to encourage your customers to return their sharps waste to your pharmacy for safe disposal. Please advise customers that they CANNOT dispose of their used/full sharps disposal containers in their recycling bin.

Click here for the Pharmacy Needle and Syringe Program Sharps Disposal Poster.

What if someone finds a loose needle or syringe?

If a loose needle or syringe is found, the preferred option for disposal is to contact the Needle Clean Up Hotline (1800 633 353) or local council in your area. They will usually arrange for the needle and syringe to be collected within 48 hours.

Alternatively, the loose needle or syringe can placed in an appropriate sharps disposal container to be disposed of. If this is unavailable, the loose needle or syringe should be placed in a rigid-walled, puncture resistant hard plastic container with a securable screw top. It is important not to attempt to replace the cap on the needle and to pick up the needle or syringe by the barrel or plunger (keep away from the sharp end of the needle). Gloves and other protective equipment should be used at all times.

What is an appropriate sharps disposal container for a customer to return their sharps waste?

A suitable container for sharps waste must be rigid-walled and puncture resistant. Cardboard, plastic bags, plastic milk bottles, soft drink bottles, glass jars and plastic take-away containers are NOT suitable containers for sharps disposal. At least 18,000 healthcare professionals in Australia suffer from a needle stick injury every year#. It is important to ensure sharps waste is housed in an appropriate sharps disposal container to minimise the risk of needle stick injuries to customers, pharmacy staff and the contractors who collect the 120L sharps disposal bins. Needle stick injuries do pose a serious risk of blood-borne infections such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.

Click here for the Pharmacy Needle and Syringe Program Sharps Disposal Poster.

#Murphy C. Improved surveillance and mandated use of sharps with engineered sharp injury protections: a national call to action. Healthcare Infection. 2008. 13:33-1107

What if someone doesn't bring their sharps waste into the pharmacy in an appropriate container?

If a customer returns sharps waste in an inappropriate container or as loose sharps, the staff member should inform the customer that the pharmacy is unable to accept sharps waste unless contained in an appropriate sharps disposal container. The staff member can offer the customer the option of purchasing an appropriate sharps disposal container if available.The customer should place the used sharps in the purchased appropriate sharps disposal container.  Appropriate sharps disposal containers (e.g. 1.4L, 1.5L or 3.1L) can be purchased by pharmacies to sell from several pharmacy wholesalers.

Customers can also be directed to the Queensland Clean Needle Helpline (1800 NEEDLE) or click here to view the location guides of public Needle and Syringe Program sites that accept community generated sharps waste. Your local city council can also offer alternative sharps waste disposal options.

What should I do if I find a loose needle or syringe in my 120L sharps disposal bin?

It is advised that staff member do not try to retrieve the loose needle or syringe in the 120L sharps disposal bin for safety reasons (i.e. leave it alone). While it is undesirable to have loose sharps waste in the bin, it is understand that loose needles or syringes may fall out of improperly sealed approved sharps containers.  

How do I train my staff in the Pharmacy Needle and Syringe Program?

To support the provision of the Pharmacy Needle and Syringe Program, a variety of training options are available for your pharmacy staff including webinars and in store training.  Please contact pnsp@qldguild.org.au for more information.

Pharmacy's Little Helper
is also a great resource which covers a variety of information relating to harm minimisation. Click here to download Pharmacy's Little Helper

Where can I access procedures for the Pharmacy Needle and Syringe Program?

Please click here to access policies and procedures

How do I order Queensland Health clean injecting equipment (sharps packs)?

Click here to download the order form

Queensland Health clean injecting equipment (sharps packs) are available free of charge to PNSP registered pharmacies for use in the sale to clients. Sharps packs must be sold at a set price of $3 (incl. GST) per pack as per the program requirements.

How long will it take my Queensland Health clean injecting equipment (sharps packs) to arrive once ordered?

Delivery may take 7-14 days in metropolitan areas and possibly longer in regional areas.

Why are retractable syringes not included in Queensland Health clean injecting equipment (sharps packs)?

There has been much debate regarding the use of retractable needles and syringe by injecting drug users. There is considerable community concerns on the potential for needle-stick injury and disease transmission posed by discarded needles/syringes in public places.1 The purpose of retractable syringes is to lower the risk of needle stick injury. They are not suited for intravenous drug use.2 The powerful spring in retractable syringes may cause vein and tissue damage as it recoils into the barrel (e.g. bruising and/or tearing).2 The recoil can also splatter the area with droplets of blood or used drug mixture, thus creating a potential for bacterial/viral infection and contamination.3

Why is Water for Injection (WFI) not included in Queensland Health clean injecting equipment (sharps packs)?

WFI is the recommended water to be used when injecting drugs. However, they are not included in sharps packs due to concerns that they may encourage re-use of the WFI. Once an ampoule or bottle of WFI is opened, it is no longer sterile. The re-use of opened WFI can cause serious infections (e.g. phlebitis, septicaemia). Pharmacies are encourage to sell WFI ampoules to people purchasing sharps kits and to promote the use of water from a clean source for injecting (e.g. WFI, cooled boiled water, distilled water). The use of bottled water carries the same reuse risk as WFI.

1.    Dolan K, Dillon P, Silins E. Needle and Syringe programs: your questions answered. Canberra: Australia Government Department of Health and Ageing; 2005. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/73934F5307F88EC7CA257BF0001E009F/$File/ques.pdf
2.    QuIHN. A QuIHN guide to retractable syringes. Brisbane: QuIHN
3.    Exchange Supplies. The retractable syringe debate. [internet]; cited 04/02/2016. Available from: http://www.exchangesupplies.org/article_retractable_and_safety_syringe_debate.php

How do I organise delivery of my initial 120L sharps disposal bin?

Once initial registration has been finalised and the pharmacy has been accepted into the program a 120L sharps disposal bin will be ordered on your behalf and dispatched to your pharmacy. Please note that for registration to be finalised the pharmacy also needs to place an order with Queensland Health for clean injecting equipment (sharps packs) as per the program requirements. Click here to order Queensland Health clean injecting equipment (sharps packs).

How do I organise collection and replacement of the full 120L sharps disposal bin?

  • Please do not call the phone number on the 120L sharps disposal bin. Click here to arrange collection of your full 120L sharps disposal bin.
  • Collection and replacement of the 120L sharps disposal bin occurs at the same time (direct swap). The contractor will bring a replacement bin to the pharmacy on the day of collection.
  • Please note: in regional areas it may take up to four weeks for collection and replacement of the 120L sharps disposal bin.
  • Please do not overfill the sharps disposal bin. If the bin has been overfilled, the contractor may refuse collection due to occupational health and safety concerns.
  • For pharmacies that are locking their bin with a padlock, please ensure your bin is unlocked on the day of collection.

What is a waste tracking agreement?

Once acceptance into the PNSP, the pharmacy will be asked to sign a Waste Tracking Agreement. The sub-contractor will liaise with the pharmacy directly to facilitate this process.

The Waste Tracking Agreement allows the pharmacy, and contractors/sub-contractors, to meet obligations under Queensland's Environmental Protection Regulation 2008.  Click here for more information.

What can be put into the 120L sharps disposal bin?

  • The 120L sharps disposal bin is for community and in-pharmacy generated sharps waste only.
  • Pharmacies should not be accepting sharps waste from commercial businesses such as medical centres, hairdressers or tattooists etc.
  • Sharps waste ONLY is to be placed into the 120L sharps disposal bin. Unwanted and expired medications, medical and general waste should not be placed into the bin.
  • Loose sharps CANNOT be placed into the 120L sharps disposal bin. All sharps must be housed in an appropriate rigid-walled, puncture resistant container.

Click here for the Pharmacy Needle and Syringe Program Sharps Disposal Poster.

Where should I store the 120L sharps disposal bin?

The 120L sharps disposal bin needs to be stored in a lockable area. This means the bin needs to be located within the pharmacy and NOT outside the pharmacy. Pharmacies must have the 120L sharps disposal bin located in an area that cannot be easily accessed by unsupervised children.

How do I lock the 120L sharps disposal bin?

The majority of 120L sharps disposal bins have a small chain that allows the lid of the bin to be locked. Pharmacies will need to purchase a small padlock to lock the bin. Locking the bin is recommended, but please ensure the bin is unlocked when the contractor collects the bin.

What if my pharmacy is involved in providing vaccination services?

Pharmacies involved in providing vaccination services can dispose of their sharps waste using the 120L sharps disposal bin. Please be aware that sharps waste must be housed in an appropriate rigid-walled, puncture resistant container prior to being disposed of in the 120L sharps disposal bin. Appropriate sharps disposal containers (e.g. 1.4L, 1.5L or 3.1L) can be purchased by pharmacies to sell from several pharmacy wholesalers.

What should happen in the event of a needle stick injury?

In the event of a needle stick injury the staff member should immediately notify their manager and be referred to their GP or local hospital for assessment. Click here for procedures and information regarding needle stick injuries

Please notify the PNSP Liaison Pharmacist on 07 3831 3788 within 48 hours of any needle stick injury. In addition, the pharmacy manager should document the incident in their incident reporting system.

What do I do if I find a used needle or syringe?

Click here for procedures and information regarding safe disposal of needles and syringes.



(1) Health Outcomes International et al., 2002
(2) The Department of Health

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Page last updated 17 March 2017