SHE was lying in a Hungry Jack’s bathroom in Melbourne, a syringe sticking out of her leg.
She had overdosed on heroin and the mother was rushed to hospital where she died at just 34 years old in May last year. She was unemployed and lived with her mother and brother in Dallas, in Melbourne’s north, while her two children lived with their father. Her tragic, and very public death, has now sparked more calls for a drug injecting centre to be opened in Melbourne.
A coroner’s report into the death of Ms A, not her real name, said she married a man who had a history of heroin and other drug abuse, a decade before her death. She started using herself and in 2007 her marriage ended but she continued to use heroin. A year after her divorce she met another man and had two children but she left him in 2010 after suffering from alleged family violence.
The coroner’s report said Ms A was stable during her early years and had tried to seek treatment for her heroin addiction and for seven years she intermittently took part in methadone programs.
She also had a prescription for Naltrexone, a medication that reverses the effect of opioids like heroin.
The coroner found Ms A had been through traumatic experiences. She was subjected to violence and had custody of her two children taken away from her. This did not help her heroin addiction and between 2007 and 2016 police had to deal with Ms A 35 times while she was drug affected.She was known to inject and purchase drugs in North Richmond in Melbourne’s inner city.
She had already overdosed just three weeks before the drug killed her. She was desperate to start a new life with her children. On May 29 about 12.20pm, Ms A went to a Hungry Jack’s in Richmond. According to the coroner’s report, she went into the toilet on her own and then emerged to get a spoon from the store counter before returning to the toilet. Just 40 minutes later, she was found unconscious on the bathroom floor, with a needle sticking out of her leg and fresh track marks on her groin. Paramedics performed CPR but she did not regain consciousness and was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital. Just two hours later she died from a cardiac arrest.The coroner has pushed for a safe injecting centre to be opened in Melbourne, like the one in Kings Cross in Sydney.
The leader of the Australian Sex Party has called on the Victorian parliament to allow a conscience vote on a proposed supervised drug-injecting facility.
Fiona Patten, who introduced legislation for a medically supervised drug-injection centre in North Richmond last year, has called for the bill to be put to conscience vote on Wednesday, saying it was a matter of “life and death”.
The plan has been controversial as some believe it will encourage drug use. The Coroners Prevention Unit found Ms A had a 10-year history of heroin abuse.
“Approximately 75 per cent of Victorians who fatally overdosed using heroin in 2015, had a 10 year or greater history of drug dependence,” the Coroners Prevention Unit said.
“The average age of the deceased was just over 41 years. Ms A was aged 34.”
Ms A often travelled to North Richmond to get her heroin fix and the Coroners Prevention Unit said over the past seven years, the City of Yarra, which includes North Richmond, had the highest rate of heroin overdose deaths in Victoria.
“In 2015, 20 of the 172 fatal heroin overdoses occurred in the City of Yarra,” the Coroners Prevention Unit said.
Coroner Jacqui Hawkins said there was strong stigma towards drug users in Richmond and staff at a safe injecting room could efficiently engage with them.
“The evidence identifies that outreach programs are vital to connecting with, engaging and supporting people who are addicted to drugs in our community,” she said.
“There are vulnerable drug users — particularly those who are experiencing mental ill health and crises such as exposure to family violence, loss of employment or housing, relationship breakdown, and criminal legal issues — who don’t know how to access services, or who fear being stigmatised by service providers, or who are unable to navigate services and disengage before receiving the help they need. Through helping these people, outreach programs are potentially saving lives.”
Ms Hawkins recommended Mental Health Minister Martin Foley take steps to establish a safe injecting facility trial in North Richmond. However, Mr Foley says the government has no plans to go ahead with a proposed North Richmond safe injecting room but will consider the coroner’s recommendations. Margot Foster, a resident from Richmond’s Victoria Street precinct, says residents have been calling out for help for years and the injection facility is a step in the right direction.
“This is exactly the evidence based and compassionate response to this crisis in our community that we have been calling for,” she says.
— with AAP