Injecting room moves patients towards treatment

cartoon syringe and hand saying stop

Melbourne’s medically supervised injecting centre has handled more than 1,130 overdoses since it opened, with many clients referred to drug and alcohol treatment

Brunswick pharmacist and harm minimisation proponent Angelo Pricolo has welcomed new data reported this week on the centre, which showed more than 250 people have started opioid replacement treatment or have been referred to other forms or drug and alcohol treatment.

“Isn’t that amazing,” he said. “We’re talking about a cohort of people that may not have access to primary care – a big group of people, many of whom have in some respect fallen through the cracks.

“We’ve introduced an interface with an opportunity to come into contact with health professionals. The fact that they’ve been referred is a huge positive.”

Between its mid-2018 opening and June 2019, the Richmond facility managed more than 1,130 overdoses – a figure which was reported in mainstream media such as the Herald Sun as being far greater than the first Australian injecting room, in Sydney.

In its first 18 months, the King’s Cross injecting room managed 424 overdoses – but Mr Pricolo warned that the circumstances in that case were different.

“I still vividly remember vising the King’s Cross centre in the first couple of weeks of its operation – and it was open very limited hours,” he said.

“As a result, obviously the number of transactions were far fewer than the one in Richmond, which hit the ground running.

“When this was happening in King’s Cross it was an earlier time – there was more caution. It was the first one in Australia, and there were a lot of reasons that made it difficult to get in – the qualifications on who could walk in and the trading hours made quite a difference.”

The injecting room has come under fire in mainstream media recently, with the Herald Sun recently reporting on “lurid behaviour” taking place in the vicinity, and a recent meeting of some local residents who are concerned that the facility had not completely fixed the issue of drug use in the area.

Mr Pricolo said that the 1,130 overdoses managed by the facility since it opened would have happened anyway.

“But they’ve now happened in a safe environment. And although we don’t know what would’ve happened to the injecting equipment after the episode, we do know what happened in the injecting room: it ended up in a safe bin.”

The data also show that more than 3,300 health and social support interventions were carried out in the centre’s first nine months.

Forty people have entered treatment for hepatitis.

“That’s a big positive as well,” Mr Pricolo said. “Unfortunately, although we now have amazing hepatitis C treatments available on the PBS, they have been underutilised and not accessed nearly as much as we had hoped.

“So another interface that enables us to treat people with hepatitis C and reduced the size of the pool in the community, thus reduces transmission in the community.

“I think [the facility] is doing what it was put there to do,” he said.

“Sure, it’s close to school, and close to traders, but that’s where the activity was still happening – in fact, some of it still is.

“But it’s less – 250 people less. This is all promising and positive data, and hopefully informs the rest of the state, and hopefully the rest of Australia, that there’s room for more of these facilities.”

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