More services needed

Social researchers call for second safe injecting facility in Sydney

There is a continued need for the safe injecting facility in Kings Cross but this location is not sufficient to provide services to the entire injecting drug-using population of Sydney at risk of overdose, two researchers have argued in a recent paper.

The Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) in Kings Cross has become a major national and global example of successful harm reduction, say UNSW Criminology Lecturer and social researcher Dr George (Kev) Dertadian and Western Sydney University Professor of Criminology Stephen Tomsen.

“Epidemiological research has reported a range of benefits, including though not limited to the reduction of overdose deaths,” they say, pointing to a reduction in needle and syringe sharing, reductions in binge injected drug use, slowing down the spread of blood-borne viruses and general crime prevention.

Significant decreases in reports of public injecting and public discarding of used needles were also found after the MSIC opened.

Meanwhile concerns of a ‘honeypot effect’ – that such facilities attract drug users as well as associated criminal activity – are not back by evidence, they say.

A systematic review of 75 papers assessing the effectiveness of safe injecting facilities identified consistent findings that such facilities do not increase drug consumption, dealing or crime in surrounding areas.

Other studies have found no or negligible impact of drug offences and related criminal activity.

Since 2001, similar facilities have been established around the world, and in 2018 the Victorian state government established Melbourne’s first injecting centre in the suburb of North Richmond.

However despite the public health success of the MSIC, there is a need for more to be done in the face of increasing opioid deaths, the researchers argue in the journal Current Issues in Criminal Justice.

In 2016, 1808 people died of a drug overdose, slightly higher than the previous record of 1740 deaths recorded in 1999.

During 2006-15, the largest proportion of those who suffered overdose death in Sydney had their usual area of residence in the Local Government Area (LGA) of Sydney (n = 336), and the larger catchment of the Sydney Local Health District (LHD) (n = 638).

The MSIC is currently located in the Sydney LGA.

Outside of inner Sydney, the next seven of the top 10 ranked LGAs on this measure of usual residence were all areas of Western Sydney, Dr Dertadian and Professor Tomsen highlight.

Western Sydney (n = 275), which contains Blacktown and Parramatta, and South Western Sydney (n = 373), which contains Liverpool, Bankstown, Fairfield and Campbelltown, are the LHDs furthest away from the current injecting centre.

Together they comprise 648 deaths as measured by usual residence of deceased over the course of the decade.

The data indicates that fatal drug overdoses most often occur in or around the suburb in which the deceased usually resides.

People who inject drugs may be unwilling or unable to travel outside of areas in which they live in order to access the MSIC, and there is a substantial physical distance between Sydney and South Western Sydney, reducing access to the MSIC for this vulnerable group of people.

“While the majority of people who die of accidental overdose likely already have a place to inject, the establishment of a second injecting facility local to them would represent an attractive prospect for safe injecting,” say Dr Dertadian and Professor Tomsen.

“If there are approximately the same number of people who inject drugs in Western Sydney as there are in the inner city, and Western Sydney users in general share the social marginality and socioeconomic demographics of the clients at the MSIC, it is important to seriously consider providing a second facility that can cater to the area.”

See the full article in Current Issues in Criminal Justice

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