‘We mustn’t continue to fear the addict’


Angelo Pricolo with Greens leader Richard Di Natale

Pharmacists absolutely must play a key role in harm minimisation, writes Angelo Pricolo

I have been asked why, as a pharmacist, I feel so strongly about the issues that affect people who inject drugs. The question surprises me because I’d hope we were all concerned with the drug use pandemic gripping so many as we approach 2020, not just pharmacists.

Pharmacists are heavily involved though because we are such a big part of the equation. We are the source of both the drug and equipment for so many of the overdose victims.

It is estimated upwards of 30 million syringes are used annually in Australia by people who inject drugs. Approximately one third of these are supplied through the pharmacy network.

Add to this the fact that pharmaceutical drugs contribute to 80% of overdose deaths in Australia (benzodiazepines and opioids being the main drug groups).

“The Forum is a great opportunity to keep the conversation going and to speak honestly and accurately about the realities of drug addiction and the benefits of a harm reduction approach, including medically supervised injecting rooms,” says Richard Di Natale.

The leader of The Greens and former GP will be speaking at the PSA/Guild Harm Minimisation Forum 28 September 2017 at Monash University Parkville.

He goes on to say, “Many people know someone who has had a problem with drug abuse or dependence and know that what we are doing isn’t working.

“Unfortunately there is a lot of deliberate misinformation in the current debate often promoted by conservative politicians and the media.

“We need to change the conversation about drugs so that people can understand the reality of living with addiction—that it has to be treated as a health issue, not a legal one.”

Many share these ideas and yet the current state government remains firm that no injecting room trial will ever be approved in Victoria.

“I absolutely support a trial for a safe injecting room in Richmond,” says Laura Turner, a reporter with A Current Affair who lost her sister to a drug overdose, who will also be speaking.

“The evidence around the world is clear; they save lives. I also believe the time is now for the community to gain a deeper understanding of addiction and how to treat it.

“We mustn’t continue to fear the addict or marginalise them, but support them as though they were our own brothers or sisters, because, sometimes they are.”

Richard reflects, “Having worked as a Drug and Alcohol doctor I know that both legal and illegal drugs have the potential for serious harm. Overdose needlessly kills 6 people per day in Australia. It is double the national road toll annually.

“But Australia’s approach to illicit drugs is punitive and actually increases the harm from drugs rather than reducing it. The medically supervised injecting facility in Kings Cross has been in place for more than a decade with not a single overdose death.

“The people of Victoria deserve access to a facility like this, which could save hundreds of lives each year.”

David Jacka is an addiction medicine specialist also involved in the Forum. He sums it up this way, “Life is too precious to be accidentally lost in a back alley; low-risk injecting facilities have been shown to keep people alive long enough to engage them in effective drug treatment.”

Every emergency service in Victoria, including the police, have now come out in support of the facility or at least no longer oppose it. It seems the closer people are to the reality of addiction the more likely they are to understand the best way forward.

So really, as pharmacists, how can we not take an active stance in the welfare of these people? The evidence from the only injecting room in Australia in Kings Cross, Sydney overwhelmingly supports the benefits to the community from allowing people this safe environment.

We all hope this forum will successfully raise awareness and formulate strategies to prevent the needless loss of life and damage to families and the wider community.

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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