Harm minimisation efforts pay big dividends

hipster looking away from camera

It’s time for pharmacists to speak up about the benefits of harm minimisation, writes Angelo Pricolo

Many issues were discussed at the 2 March 2016 Drug Summit organised by the Greens leader Richard Di Natale and supported by both major parties at Parliament House.

For me the two main topics included the decriminalisation of drugs, similar to the Portuguese model. Unfortunately, most tend to mix up decriminalisation with legalisation, which is probably the biggest barrier to an intelligent debate.

The other key topic for me was giving consideration to introducing more supervised injecting centres in Australia.

Currently only one such facility exists, at Kings Cross in Sydney, and it has been in operation for the past 15 years. In fact it is the only such facility in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) has bipartisan support from NSW State Government and operates for about 80 hours per week. It has about 225 visits per day (more like 260 on weekdays and 150 on weekends). There is increasing support in Melbourne for a safe injecting room.

At the summit I had the opportunity to chat to Marianne Jauncey, who is the Medical Director of the Sydney MSIC. I asked her how we should go about achieving a MSIC in Melbourne and was not expecting her answer: “How do we get another one in Sydney?”

In the last few weeks we have had statements of support from local councils and traders previously opposed in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond.

Top police officer Mick Palmer says he is convinced positive outcomes could be achieved if we were prepared to consider things like consumption rooms – consumption rooms where drugs other than heroin could be consumed. But he believes it’s easier for politicians to sell the “War on Drugs” message rather than the alternatives.

One of the interesting turnarounds has come from law enforcement. Once vehemently opposed now it seems most of these frontliners, the people with so much hands-on real experience are singing the praises of the changes at the Cross.

The reason is that they can see the changes it has brought to their community, positive changes to peoples lives and the new environment it has created.

Le’s applaud the vision of the Sydneysiders who persisted and insisted and have employed a solution that has helped both users and the community without just pushing the problem off to the next community. Kings Cross has confronted the drug users and is working with them.

“If you want those using drugs to stop using them in your playgrounds, laneways, parks and beaches give them an alternative.  A safe place where you can provide counsellors medical and social supports and you will see positive changes in your community,” says Alex, a youth drug and alcohol counsellor at a Community Health Service.

Alex has spent 18 years working with young people with addiction issues.  “A small investment with young people in this area will change a lifetime of dependence on our welfare and health systems and the associated costs.”

Alex Wodak, the Sydney-based addiction specialist has estimated the MSIC in Sydney has seen almost a million injections, and no-one has died. He has identified places like western and south-western Sydney as well as Richmond, Collingwood and Footscray in Melbourne and Brisbane’s Fortitutde Valley, as likely sites for safe injecting rooms.

It is time that as pharmacists we lend our voices to the increasing number of groups and individuals advocating the benefits of this harm minimisation measure.

Consider also that the majority of opioids injected are coming from our safes in our dispensaries and written by the local GP.

As pharmacists it is estimated we oversee the provision of one third of all syringes that are used in the community by intravenous drug users. That’s about 10 million syringes per year.

Injecting rooms are another interface that will engage a group of users that may not otherwise come into contact with information and services that can potentially protect them and the community from harm.

Angelo Pricolo is a National Councillor with The Pharmacy Guild of Australia and a member of the PSA Harm Minimisation Committee.



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1 Comment

  1. Daniel Roitman

    Well put.

    As front line health practitioners we can lend a powerful voice to an important policy and social reform. Harm minimization is an evidence-based approach that has been tested and proven effective in numerous other settings. It’s time for us to eject the failed policies of the past and move forward with the times.

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