Penington Institute connects lived experience and research to improve community safety in relation to drugs.

It is too easy to judge people who use drugs.

Legal or illegal, the misuse of any psychoactive substance impacts us all.

At Penington Institute, we think it’s far more productive to prevent and tackle drug use in a safe, effective and practical way.

Risky behaviours are part of being human.

Our focus is on making individuals and families safer and healthier, helping communities, frontline services and governments reduce harm, respect human rights and improve the rule of law.

Founded by needle exchange workers and people with lived experience of drug use in 1995 as a peak body, The Association of Needle Exchanges (ANEX) grew into Penington Institute, named in honour of Emeritus Professor David Penington AC, who led Australia’s early and world-leading approach to HIV/AIDS.

Like Professor Penington, who remains our Patron to this day, we confront the most important issues and champion innovative evidence-based action to improve people’s lives – no matter how challenging our perspective might appear.

A not-for-profit organisation, Penington Institute’s research and analysis provides the evidence needed to help us all rethink drug use and create change for the better.

We focus on promoting effective strategies, frontline workforce education and public awareness activities. Our work has a positive impact on people, health and law enforcement systems, the economy and society.

An independent voice of reason on drug policy, we are a straight-talking ally for practical insights, information and evidence-based action for people in need.

Penington Institute acknowledges the importance of individual responsibility in relation to substance use, as well as the role of government and community to address the risks that contribute to problematic use of licit and illict drugs and alcohol.

Unsafe drug use is an issue that needs to be looked at from an economic perspective so we can protect health and community safety more cost effectively.

We value

  • Productivity: We support actions that deliver the best health, social and economic returns.
  • Integrity:  Drug use is a complex issue. We advocate fair, evidence-based systems that improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities.
  • Compassion: We do not condone drug use, but work to protect people from drug-related harm when at their most vulnerable.  Feasible and accessible options are needed to help reduce the risks associated with the use of different types of drugs, including pharmaceuticals, alcohol and nicotine.
  • Persistence: We believe that responding to drug use requires innovation and evaluation of a combination of approaches. There is no simple solution but by persisting, we will make a positive difference.
  • Empowerment: Tackling drug problems is a shared responsibility. We acknowledge individual responsibility tempered with government and community support in order to generate positive change.

Penington Institute collaborates with, and represents a broad range of sectors and organisations to identify and respond to specific substance use problems and their causes.

Our activities:

  • Enhance awareness of the health, social and economic drivers of drug-related harm.
  • Promote rational, integrated approaches to reduce the burden of death, disease and social problems related to problematic substance use.
  • Build and share knowledge to empower individuals, families and the community to take charge of substance use issues.
  • Better equip front-line workers to respond effectively to the needs of those with problematic drug use.

Our purpose is framed by our knowledge that we need to look at more effective, cost-efficient and compassionate ways to prevent and respond to problematic drug use in our community.

A summary of Penington Institute’s strategic plan is available here.

Emeritus Professor David Penington AC – Image: Simon Schluter, Fairfax Syndication

Penington Institute is named in honour of Emeritus Professor David Penington AC.

Our story begins in the 1980s with the establishment of the first needle and syringe programs (NSPs) to avert the rapid spread of HIV among injecting drug users that had occurred overseas.

This strategy, along with the formation of the National AIDS Task Force – spearheaded by Emeritus Professor Penington – saved countless Australian lives, our economy many millions of dollars and remains a widely-celebrated example of how to respond to an acute public health crisis.

Our very first incarnation, the Needle Exchange Workers Network (NEWN), contributed to that success and to Australia’s reputation as an international leader in HIV/AIDS.

NEWN was formalised in 1995 as the Association of Needle Exchanges (Anex). Anex held regular meetings of NSP service providers, an annual conference and published the highly regarded Bulletin, providing the sector with peer support as well as information about best practice and emerging drug trends.

Anex’s close connections to the frontlines provided unique insights into the impacts of laws and policies on people who use drugs. Increasingly, Anex came to involve itself in policy debates.

This expansion of Anex’s activities led to the creation in 2014 of Penington Institute.

Since then, Penington Institute has led from the front in calling for evidence-based drug policies that keep individuals and communities safe and healthy. This thought leadership has been especially prominent in many of our ongoing projects and campaigns, such as Australia’s Annual Overdose Report and International Overdose Awareness Day, and in our work together with government, such as providing the Australian Government with the model that informed its three-state Take Home Naloxone Trial and in our Victorian Government-funded digital campaign to support young people who are using or contemplating using ice, Understanding Ice.

Drawing on its rich history while constantly striving to reduce the impacts of problematic drug use, Penington Institute will continue making significant contributions to the national and international debate around drugs well into the future.

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