Calls continue for Richmond safe injecting room

Amanda Lyons

24/10/2017 12:00:00 AM

While debate continues to rage over the possible implementation of a safe-injecting room in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Richmond, with the subject to be debated in Victorian parliament today, GPs in the area are administering life-saving healthcare services to drug-affected people in and out of their practices

Calls for safe injecting room in Richmond
Calls for safe injecting room in Richmond

‘Sometimes we have to pull people out from between carparks and bring them into an area where we can resuscitate them; two women carrying this big weight because we can’t resuscitate the big guy in the position that he’s in,’ Dr Ines Rio, a GP at North Richmond Community Health centre, told newsGP. ‘It’s all very well and good to say safety first, but if you rely on safety first the guy would be dead.’
North Richmond Community Health centre is located at the base of Victoria’s largest housing estate and in the eye of Richmond’s heroin epidemic. Clinic staff members tended to 56 overdoses that had occurred outside their premises in 2015. This increased to 78 in 2016 and the number looks likely to further increase this year. In addition, the clinic’s drug and alcohol team distributes more than 70,000 needles to per month to injecting drug users in the area.
These stark statistics, however, represent only the tip of the iceberg of what has been labelled a full-blown ‘drug crisis’ in Richmond. The Victorian government maintains a strong opposition to the establishment of a safe-injecting room for drug users, with Premier Daniel Andrews arguing there are other, preferable ways to help.
‘The notion that there is only one answer to this, I don’t think that’s right,’ he told Fairfax media.
In opposition to these views, a well-attended community rally was organised in August in support of establishing a safe-injecting room in Richmond, and all branches of Victorian emergency services now either actively back a trial, or are not opposed to it. The RACGP has also put its weight behind this issue, both as a signatory to a joint statement supporting a medically-supervised injecting room trial in Victoria and in a submission to the Victorian Parliament in May of this year.
Dr Penny Magoulas, a GP at private-billing clinic Richmond Medical, advocates a harm-minimisation approach to Richmond’s drug problem. Having witnessed positive impact of Sydney’s medically supervised injecting centre in Kings Cross, she is in favour of a safe-injecting room in Richmond.
‘I think there are pros for the population of injecting drug users, and there are also pros for the community as a greater whole, in creating more of a safe community space and environment and preventing the complications [of injecting drug use],’ she told newsGP.
‘My personal opinion would be to give it a trial [in Richmond] and see how it goes, because I don’t really know what an alternative option is at the moment.’
Dr Rio agrees with Premier Andrews in that a safe-injecting room is not an all-encompassing silver bullet to a very complex situation. But, unlike the Premier, she believes one is still very necessary in the Richmond area.
‘Supervised injecting facilities are an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle,’ she said. ‘They have got a broad-based support because there’s a significant problem, and there’s a significant answer forward for one part of the problem.’
Victorian MP Fiona Patten’s proposed bill on such a trial is to be debated in parliament today, the outcome of which will be eagerly anticipated by healthcare professionals throughout Victoria.

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