PREMIER Daniel Andrews is refusing to support a push for a safe injecting room despite admitting that more needs to be done to help drug addicts.
The Herald Sun revealed today that a coalition of community leaders and medical experts is backing Sex Party leader Fiona Patten’s plan for an 18-month trial of a safe injecting room in North Richmond.
Mr Andrews said this morning that heroin use was a “serious issue” but that he was firmly against replicating the approach tried successfully in Sydney.
“We understand that it’s having a very serious impact in that part of our city, and whilst we have no plans to introduce a safe injecting facility, I do think that there are some other things we can do,” Mr Andrews said.
“There are other harm minimisation approaches we can take and we’re looking to explore those and that’s the view that I’ve had for a long time.”
Under Ms Patten’s plan drug addicts would be given free needles and medical help to shoot up in a safe injecting room in North Richmond. A coalition of community leaders and medical experts say the plan would clean up drug-plagued streets on which 34 people died last year. They were among 172 fatal heroin overdoses in Victoria.
Former premier Jeff Kennett, criminal lawyer Robert Richter, QC, City of Yarra mayor Amanda Stone and leaders of the Australian Medical Association and the Salvation Army are among those who have thrown their support behind the proposal. Ms Patten will this week introduce a Bill in the Legislative Council for the 18-month trial, modelled on a safe injecting room in Kings Cross in Sydney.
“We need to face up to the fact that people are overdosing and dying in family restaurants, on the steps of businesses, in the lanes near people’s homes,” Ms Patten said.
Mr Kennett said “the time has come” for a safe injecting room. He said: “If the council, the traders, the police support the establishment of this facility, then I trust it will not be politicians who reject it.”
Mr Richter, state president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, said an injecting room did not send “a message drug use is all right”.
“It is telling the community that just as we try to save the lives of those killed on the roads, we should try and save the lives of those who can’t save themselves without help,” Mr Richter said.
Mental Health Minister Martin Foley said the State Government supported “harm minimisation steps that look at this as a health issue”. The State Government would keep working with agencies on the best way to save lives, Mr Foley said. Almost 40 social and health leaders are backing the safe injecting room trial.
They include former Commissioner for Children and Young People Bernie Geary, Victorian Drug and Alcohol Association chief Sam Biondo, Victorian AIDS Council boss Simon Ruth and North Richmond Community Health Centre chief Demos Krouskos. The injecting room could be based at the health centre. Ms Patten said the initiative would free up ambulance resources and reduce the number of needles on the streets.
She said: “Late last year, a single mother of three young children died in a toilet.
“Her children’s future is now bleak.
“We could have saved her, and them. We have 30 years of data on safe consumption rooms from around the world … reduced deaths, reduced crime, and improved amenity for residents and retailers.
“Those results speak for themselves,” she said.
Locals said many drug users were shooting up in a carpark just metres away from Richmond West Primary School. In just three minutes on Monday, the Herald Sun saw what appeared to be two drug deals. Local Jackie Barker said brazen drug dealing gave the area a “bad reputation” and made her feel threatened. And a worker on Victoria St said he was scared for his family and friends: “It is terrible. This really puts people off coming to Richmond.”
Last year, the Coroners Court investigated heroin overdoses after a rise in deaths and concern that the purity of heroin was on the rise. It is expected to hand down findings in coming weeks.
BACKING FOR INJECT HAVEN
A SAFE injecting room in the heart of Sydney has prevented thousands of overdose deaths, reduced ambulance call-outs and connected vulnerable people with help.
The Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross was set up in 2001 as a 10-year trial authorised by then New South Wales premier Bob Carr. It was permanently approved in 2010 and despite supervising almost one million injections since opening, no one has died from an overdose. It is now being held up as a model for an 18-month trial in North Richmond, Victoria’s heroin hot spot.
Sydney’s safe injecting room, the only one in Australia, handles about 180 injections every day and has successfully managed more than 6000 potentially fatal overdoses since 2001. During that time, ambulance call-outs to Kings Cross have fallen by 80 per cent. Dr Marianne Jauncey, the clinic’s medical director, said the figures were “unequivocal evidence” that safe injecting rooms “can save lives”. She said multiple independent reviews had proved the room, funded by proceeds of crime, had not caused an increase in drug use or crime.
The centre does not allow drug dealing inside and users instead come with drugs they have already bought. They must be over 18 and cannot be intoxicated. Nurses supervise the injecting room and provide clean needles, advice on safe practices, and first aid. There is a resuscitation room and an after-care area to support people until they are ready to leave. Users are also able to be referred to rehabilitation and to housing, legal and welfare services.
About 70 per cent of drug users who visit the room have never accessed any healthcare before, but 80 per cent of frequent visitors accepted a referral for addiction treatment. Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett said opening the facility was “probably Bob Carr’s finest act”.
“The whole community is totally supportive of it, including the traders who at the time were very much against it,” Mr Kennett said.
“The test for the Sydney safe-injecting facility would be what would happen after it was established, and the results are indisputable. It is a safe place.
“No deaths within the safe injecting facility, tidying up the dealing on the streets, and no deaths in doorways.”
The facility is open from 9.30am to 9.30pm on weekdays, and from 9.30am to 5.30pm on weekends.
– ALEX WHITE, TOM MINEAR and DAVID HURLEY, Herald Sun