The Victorian government has ruled out a safe injecting room, despite “crisis level” drug use and widespread support
A bill proposed by MP Fiona Patten, which calls for an 18‑month trial of a medically supervised injecting centre in North Richmond in response to escalating use of illicit drugs in the area, has been rejected by the Victorian government.
This is despite an inquiry into the bill finding that drug use in North Richmond has reached “crisis level”.
“It is a major concern for residents, business owners and emergency services,” found the inquiry committee, which included Ms Patten as well as several other MPs from a variety of affiliations across the state.
The inquiry report concluded that there was no evidence of medically supervised injecting centres having a ‘honey pot’ effect on crime.
“MSICs improve the health of injecting drug users and reduce signs of drug use in surrounding streets,” said the committee.
Evaluations of the safe injecting room in Sydney’s King Cross has also found evidence of public amenity benefits to the local community and reduced demand for ambulance services.
Forty-six of 49 submissions in the inquiry, three of which were from local residents, were in support of the trial proposal.
The organisations that were against the proposal were the Australian Christian Lobby, the Drug Advisory Council of Australia, and Drug Free Australia.
But despite overwhelming support for a trial, Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley says the government will be sticking by its established policy against trialling the supervised injecting room.
“We have no plans to introduce a safe injecting room,” Mental Health Minister Martin Foley told media last week.
“This is fundamentally a public health issue that the report identifies, we know there is more to be done in alcohol and drug rehabilitation more generally.”
Calls going unheard
Ms Patten has expressed her disappointment in the government’s response.
“I’m very much hoping once they get a chance to read the report they will change their mind,” she tells AJP.
“The evidence is compelling. Three coronial reports have now recommended that a trial be established and they have been backed up by the Australian Medical Association, the Salvation Army, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, The Pharmacy Guild, The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, local government and paramedics.”
“There is not a single medical expert that doesn’t think this is a crisis. I know that the government is struggling with this but I’m hoping for common sense and reason.”
Ms Patten says without the introduction of an MSIC, the overdose rate – which is already outdoing the road toll – will go even higher.
“A safe injecting centre will not only save lives, but will also get people on the road to recovery.
“Only one conclusion can possibly be drawn on the evidence put before the inquiry,” she says.
“That is, that the parliament must endorse this trial. Anyone who seriously looks beyond the findings, must see that the evidence is categorical”.
The government has failed to provide an alternative plan, says Greens MP Nina Springle, who was also on the inquiry committee.
“The government has failed to provide any plan to save lives,” Ms Springle tells AJP.
“We want to see an injecting centre trialled in North Richmond, where people are currently overdosing on the streets and in laneways.
“The Sydney medically supervised injecting facility [in King’s Cross] has been saving lives for the past 16 years, and getting people on the path to treatment and recovery.
“The Premier needs to do the right thing and start listening to the experts, so we can stop these preventable deaths.”
Ms Springle says the Greens will continue to campaign on the issue into the 2018 election.[We] have vowed to work with the Richmond community to force the government to backflip on its opposition to a medically supervised facility, and will campaign on the issue in the seat of Richmond at the 2018 election.”
Melbourne pharmacist and harm minimisation advocate Angelo Pricolo says the positive results from the Sydney injecting centre should be more than enough evidence for the Victorian government to move forward with the trial.
“As a minimum out of respect to overdose victims and their families the Victorian government should change their stance against the establishment of a safe injecting room,” says Mr Pricolo.
“With evidence supporting the room it will take a strong, committed government to approve a trial as was the case in Sydney at Kings Cross,” he tells AJP.
“On any level, even the harshest critic in NSW now considers the room an overwhelming success.”
Mr Pricolo reminds pharmacists and stakeholders that a Melbourne forum will be hosted on September 28 to “be the bridge that continues us on the mature path towards a compassionate decision”.
“At this stage unfortunately all members of both the Andrews government and the opposition party [led by Matthew Guy] have declined an invitation to even attend the forum and discuss such an important issue.”
In its submission to the inquiry, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Victorian branch called for the establishment of a safe injecting facility.
“The Guild recognises the importance of availability and provision of sterile needles and syringes to the community for the purposes of injecting licit and illicit drugs,” wrote Victorian branch president Anthony Tassone.
“The Guild is committed to considering all options which could protect both the wider community and people who inject drugs from blood borne viruses associated with unsafe injecting practices, such as needle sharing and unsafe disposal.
“This includes support for a supervised safe injecting facility which is consistent with the above [harm reduction] principles, on the basis that it is medically supervised and best practice guidelines and procedures are followed.”