Injecting room trial gets green light


addiction illicit drugs dependency

The troubled North Richmond area is to get its medically supervised injecting room trial, which is hoped to help drive drug users into treatment

Harm minimisation proponent and pharmacist Angelo Pricolo today welcomed the Andrews Government’s decision to undertake an initial two-year trial of a medically supervised injecting facility, which will commence from June 2018.

The Andrews Labor Government made the announcement as part of a package intended to take on “skyrocketing” ice and heroin deaths in Victoria.

Its $87 million Drug Rehabilitation Plan is intended to build on existing work commenced through the Ice Action Plan, and will include expanded treatment, boosted training and a further 100 residential rehabilitation beds, as well as the injecting room.

New residential rehab facilities will be established in key regional areas, and a new rapid detox withdrawal model will be trialed for people with particularly complex addiction and conditions who present at hospital.

The Government will also address the drug problem from a law enforcement perspective, increasing sentences for commercial heroin traffickers to bring them in line with new ice trafficking sentences; targeting “dodgy” rehabilitation providers; and focusing on organised crime.

The Government says it is concerned that more Victorians are losing their lives to heroin overdose, with numbers approaching those of 20 years ago.

Two people reportedly lost their lives to overdose in the area just since the weekend.

“Too many people are dying in Richmond and it has to end,” says member for Richmond Richard Wynne.

“This is bold, brave action that will give addicts a chance at survival and make our streets safer.”

Angelo Pricolo, who has recently hosted harm minimisation forums for pharmacists and other interested health professionals, told the AJP that this is “a historic moment”.

“This has been a 20-year struggle,” he says. “It’s now time to organise it in a way that will maximise the harm minimisation philosophy and provide treatment options.

“If the injecting room in Sydney has taught us anything, it’s that once it becomes operational, and the benefits are realised, more people will become supportive, from residents to local businesses and the broader health sector.”

Pharmacy is ideally positioned to provide treatment, Mr Pricolo says.

“I see the injecting room as a vehicle for eventually moving people onto safer treatment options, and that’s where pharmacy plays its part – I’d like to see pharmacy now liaising in that local area with Yarra Health and building some bridges to treatment.

“The benefits will not just be saving lives – although this is by far the most important benefit – but it will also mean there will be fewer needles disposed of in public places, better care for active at-risk drug users, and reduced demand for emergency services such as ambulances and police.”

He says his only regret is that the trial was not given the go-ahead sooner.

An AJP poll conducted earlier this month showed overwhelming support for a medically supervised injecting room.

At the time of writing, AJP readers had ticked readers had ticked 2102 responses indicating support for such a facility (readers could choose more than one option) while 227 responses opposed the trial.

Harm Reduction Victoria also welcomed the trial’s announcement.

“Fatal overdose rates in Victoria have exceeded the annual road toll for the last two years,” says its acting executive officer, Charles Henderson.

“Politicians simply could not continue to ignore this preventable loss of life and needed to act urgently to address this unacceptable situation.

“We welcome this initiative and hope that it is the beginning of a raft of harm reduction and drug law reform measures that are necessary to further improve the lives of people who inject drugs in Victoria.”

Chair of RACGP Victoria Dr Cameron Loy said the safe injecting room would help reduce the death toll from heroin and protect the local community.

“The evidence is overwhelming, medically supervised injecting centres work,” Dr Loy said.

Oversights for the trial will include:

  • The Bill to specify for one licence to operate a medically supervised injecting room, with the address of the location written into the legislation. This ensures it can only operate at the North Richmond Community Health Centre for the duration of the trial.
  • Allowing only people aged over 18 years to use the facility, with a ban on children attending.
  • Ensuring that illegal drugs won’t be provided or dealt at the facility.
  • Putting in place additional security measures, including 13 new CCTV cameras near the facility and in surrounding streets.
  • Ensuring Victoria Police works closely with the Department of Health and Human Services to support community safety while minimising drug harm.

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