By Nino Bucci and Benjamin Preiss
Updated first published at
A coroner has recommended the Victorian government trial a supervised injecting room in north Richmond, amid an unprecedented spate of heroin overdoses.
Coroner Jacqui Hawkins held an inquest in December into the death of Ms A, a 34-year-old who overdosed from heroin on May 30.
In findings released on Monday, she recommended that Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley take necessary steps to establish a trial of a safe injecting facility.
She also recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services expand the availability of naloxone, a drug used to reverse heroin overdoses, and review funding for services that support drug users in the region.
A spokeswoman for Mr Foley said the government had no plans to set up a safe injecting room.
“However, it will carefully consider the coroner’s recommendations and will respond in coming months, as is standard practice,” she said.
The issue will come to a head this week with a bill by Sex Party MP Fiona Patten for a safe injecting room trial to be debated in Parliament. Ms Patten has long campaigned for a safe drug consumption room.
“It was this inquiry that instigated that bill,” Ms Patten said.
She said a conscience vote should be allowed on the bill. “Maybe that would enable the more conservative elements of the parties to stick to their guns,” she said.
She believed the bill would have enough support to pass if a conscience vote was allowed.
Greens MP Colleen Hartland urged the government to heed the coroner’s recommendations and trial a supervised injecting centre in Richmond.
“When the government refuses to take action, they’re saying these lives aren’t worth saving,” she said.
The chief executive of North Richmond Community Health, Demos Krouskos, said there had been a “catastrophic failure of public policy” on heroin-related deaths.
“Our staff attend these events on an almost daily basis,” he said.
Australian Medical Association Victoria has also supported a safe injecting room trial.
According to the coroner’s findings, there were 172 heroin overdose deaths in 2015 in Victoria, which is the “greatest annual frequency” since the height of the heroin scourge in the late 1990s.
In the six months leading up to her death, Ms A had visited north Richmond regularly to buy and use heroin.
Three weeks before her death, outreach workers used naloxone to treat her for an overdose.
In Sydney, a supervised injecting facility has operated for more than 15 years in Kings Cross. The centre’s medical director, Marianna Jauncey, told the inquest the area where a person injects drugs resembles a medical clinic, with a nurse’s station and stainless steel booths.
The facility averages about 150 visits each day and has “managed” 6500 overdoses.
Article cover image: The City of Yarra collects more than 200 used syringes from the streets every day. Photo: Eddie Jim