Compassion, not judgement, needed on illicit drug use


cartoon syringe and hand saying stop

Stakeholders have reiterated support for Richmond’s supervised injecting facility, following a Herald Sun article which reported the facility was attracting poor behaviour

Writing in the Herald Sun on Tuesday, Monique Hore reported on “lurid behaviour” in a Richmond laneway between February and May 2019, including “at least six separate incidents of public drug use”.

Further alleged incidents include a man threatening a woman and strip searching her, what was described as “an apparent ‘drug deal involving four people” and a couple engaging in sex acts in the laneway.

According to one property owner whose home backed onto the laneway, the supervised injecting facility was attracting illicit drug users “from far and wide”.

“We are not being holy, or not-in-our-backyard type of people,” the resident told Ms Hore.

“We were for the injecting room because we were hopeful that it would ease the strain on ambulance services.

“But it’s a Band-Aid, it’s not a solution.”

Another Richmond resident described finding packets of needles in a drain in his front yard, as well as bloodied needles in his driveway.

Richmond residents are reportedly calling to have the injecting facility shut down or moved – or for potentially opening more such facilities around Melbourne in an attempt to have drug users attend different facilities, rather than only one in Richmond.

A community meeting was held to discuss the issue.

The article is accompanied by images of alleged drug users in the laneway and a nearby car park, and pictures of an allegedly “drug-affected” man walking on a road in the suburb.

Victoria Police told the Herald Sun that the organisation was committed to reducing drug-related harm in the vicinity.

Meanwhile Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said that the facility was saving lives, and that while the trial was not providing a perfect solution, it should be permitted to run its course in order to make informed decisions about whether the facility should continue to remain open.

Brunswick pharmacist and harm minimisation Angelo Pricolo told the AJP that the supervised injecting facility in Richmond was never going to be a complete solution to harms arising from illicit drug use, but had already done a great deal of good.

“Allowing a trial to take place in Richmond, a hot spot for drug use and overdose deaths, was a courageous move by the premier Daniel Andrews in the face of some vigorous opposition,” he told the AJP.

“It needs to be stated that there was also lots of support from many and varied camps including residents, traders, drug and alcohol workers, the police, AMA, RACGP, Pharmacy Guild and the PSA. 

“The safe injecting facility was never going to ‘fix’ the situation in Richmond but what is not in dispute is that thousands of injecting events have taken place in this room.

“These are episodes that otherwise would have usually occurred in the very streets that have so graphically been photographed. They would have resulted in more activity being openly viewed, more injecting equipment being dumped in public places and probably more overdose deaths.

“This facility has provided an opportunity to treat our most vulnerable, many whom have horrific stories of abuse to deal with and a large percentage struggling with other mental health issues,” Mr Pricolo said.

“How we treat our most vulnerable reflects on the type of society we are. Finally in Victoria we have a government willing to listen to the evidence and stand up for these people and the community.

“Let’s continue with the trial and continue to face the problem with compassion not judgement.”

Anthony Tassone, the Pharmacy Guild’s Victorian branch president, told the AJP that the Guild is committed to reducing the social, health and economic costs of drug misuse in Australia, and believes that a nationally coordinated approach to the management and treatment of drug addiction is required given the magnitude of the issue. 

“The Guild supports a harm-reduction approach, including the trial of the medically supervised drug injecting room in Richmond, which recognises that an individual’s engagement in drug misuse, illegal drug supply or illegal drug manufacture has other flow-on social, economic and other health consequences for the community,” Mr Tassone said.

“The medically supervised drug injecting facility in Richmond is part of a two-year trial, and the views of the community are an important consideration for the next steps following the trial’s evaluation. 

“Figures released from the Victorian government show that more than 2,200 clients have used the service, and staff have safely managed more than 650 overdoses that may have otherwise been fatal.

“The facility is literally saving lives, and this must be at the forefront of all of our conversations about this particular site and any other facility’s future.”

Other pharmacists criticised the way the issue was reported by the Herald Sun, saying it reinforced stigma and was unhelpful.

 

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