Is it right to make injecting equipment available online?

Sometimes people express the view that it's not right to offer injecting equipment available for sale online directly to drug users when this might result in them not attending services.

We've written this article to explain why we believe it is important to the range of outlets for injecting equipment to be as wide as possible, and that online supply has the potential to be an important avenue of syringe distribution.

When we were setting up the webshop we decided early on to make equipment available to people who wanted to buy online because we believe it is clear that:
  • Ultimately it is clean injecting equipment that prevents infection transmission and therefore every avenue of clean equipment supply must be utilised and facilitated to it's maximum potential;
  • The model of provision of injecting equipment with minimal or no advice or information is well established through the provision of packs via pharmacies, and we can offer the same or better level of support, because we have lots of written and youtube based materials about our products;
  • Many well established needle and syringe programmes (for instance Australia and France) have a paid for element to provision via vending machines and/or pharmacy sales, and these have proved popular to a group who might otherwise not access clean injecting equipment;
  • buying online may mean that some people who feel unable to access services because of their location, profession, or position in the community can always have enough sterile equipment;
  • Because we specialise in equipment supply, we knew we would be able to reduce the cost for injectors who want to buy needles and syringes online; and finally we hoped that
  • Allowing people people who can afford it to buy online might reduce pressure on NHS funded services.

We sometimes get asked about the issue of the legality of needle and syringe supply by websites. Our view is that it's not really a grey area because the law was written to prevent 'drug kits' being sold by shops encouraging the use of drugs, and the exemptions have been applied with the clear intention of allowing supply of equipment that can reduce harm.

At Exchange Supplies we fall within the broad definition of 'drug treatment services' because we have several staff with extensive clinical experience, provide employment and training to current and former injecting drug users, and offer telephone, email, and online information and support to drug users and drug workers so we are able to supply the full range of injecting equipment to drug users, completely within the law.

General medical wholesale equipment suppliers aren't breaking the law in selling syringes either because a prosecution for breach of section 9A requires intent on behalf of the supplier, the offence is: "supply or offer to supply articles for administering or preparing controlled drugs." If the seller doesn't know the end use of the article, they're not breaking the law.

Clearly online equipment supply, like much pharmacy provision, cannot offer specialist or individual advice in the way that specialist needle exchange services can, and that's why we would never suggest that it could replace specialist provision. But we think it can be an adjunct to a comprehensive service mix that is aiming to increase coverage to the maximum / effective levels.


Exchange Supplies,
1 Great Western Industrial Centre,
Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1RD, UK

01305 262244