It’s time Victoria followed NSW in setting up a safe place for heroin addicts to inject drugs, health professionals say

While pharmacist Angelo Pricolo is planning a forum looking at how an injecting room could help minimise harm to the community, a Richmond doctor has penned a piece in the MJA calling for such a facility.

Mr Pricolo says the forum, set to take place in September, will feature harm miminisation proponents including Dr Marianne Jauncey, medical director, Uniting Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre; Sex Party leader Fiona Patten, who has previously called for a facility in Victoria; and Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale.

He is currently finalising the line-up and encouraged pharmacists to attend.

“We don’t want to lose momentum on this,” Mr Pricolo says. “There’s been a lot of talk about it, but there hasn’t been a resolution, and Richmond is crying out.

“I’ve spoken to mothers dropping off their kids who’ve found syringes in kindergartens – this is the sort of thing that drives me, that there are silent voices being affected on a daily basis.

“And when you hear someone like Marianne talk about the difference an injecting room makes, you really start to understand how things have changed in King’s Cross.

“They’ve had an 80% reduction in ambulance callout rates. Since 2001 they’ve had about 6000 overdose episodes treated, and there has not been one death. In fact, there hasn’t been one death reported in an injecting room anywhere in the world.”

Ines Rio, a GP from North Richmond Community Health, has written in the MJA about her and colleagues’ experiences treating overdoses in the area.

“It happened again yesterday. Code Blue, carpark. We each quickly excuse ourselves to the patients we are consulting with, grabbing a pair of gloves on the way out,” she writes.

“As we hurriedly stream out of doors and along the corridor, we check that someone is collecting the resuscitation kit. By the time we make it to the front door there are three general practitioners, a practice nurse and two drug and alcohol workers.

“The person who had run in to tell reception a few minutes earlier has disappeared. But the staff know by now to ask where we have to go. We run up four flights of stairs and see the usual sight; a woman cyanotic on the hard and dirty carpark concrete, injecting paraphernalia by her side and a friend behaving erratically and crying and screaming to her to wake up.

“We ask and examine, assess and talk, put an airway in, bag and mask, administer multiple doses and call the ambulance.”

Dr Rio writes that, “Encouraged by our drug and alcohol workers, the person sometimes stays a while – providing the drug and alcohol workers with a vital opportunity to provide more monitoring, support and safety planning, education and counselling, and to form a relationship that might lead to therapeutic interventions.”

North Richmond is the epicentre of the current heroin epidemic, she says, and without a safe injecting room health professionals just need to do what they can with the resources they have.

North Richmond Community Health Centre treated 56 overdoses in 2015, 78 in 2016 and by the end of March 2017, had already treated 28.

“A trial at our centre is well supported by evidence, need and our experiences,” she writes. “We believe it is time for both sides of Victorian government to join our neighbour state and establish a supervised injecting facility at North Richmond.”

In the meantime, Angelo Pricolo encourages pharmacists to get behind efforts to open such a room, and to make the most of their unique opportunity to help minimise harm to drug users and other community members.

“From a pharmacist treating point of view, an injecting room would be another interface with drug users,” he tells the AJP.

“There’s a big percentage of intravenous drugs users who just won’t make contact with other health professionals and may never really have done so, though they’ll come into pharmacy.

“An injecting room would mean another interface where they have a chance to interact with a health professional, so it would be an opportunity to get into contact with those people who wouldn’t otherwise initiate it.”

An injecting room would give health professionals an additional opportunity, in addition to those available in pharmacy, to encourage drug users to move towards treatment, he says.

“That’s the opportunity for the pharmacist. That’s what we do, we help treat people.”