Doctors opposed to plan to scrap injecting room

Amanda Lyons

22/11/2018 1:54:22 PM

Ahead of this weekend’s Victorian election, health professionals are concerned Matthew Guy’s promise to close the Richmond injecting room would place vulnerable people – and the surrounding community – at risk.

Many doctors and Richmond residents are opposed to the Victorian Liberals’ plans to close the area’s safe-injecting room. (Image: Joe Castro)
Many doctors and Richmond residents are opposed to the Victorian Liberals’ plans to close the area’s safe-injecting room. (Image: Joe Castro)

Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has taken a strong position against the safe-injecting room trial in North Richmond, located in a community health centre next to Richmond West Primary School.
‘I wouldn’t want an ice injecting room next to my sons’ primary school, and therefore I won’t tolerate it next to anyone else’s children’s primary school. That’s why we’ll shut it down,’ he said.
But many doctors disagree with the Liberal party’s proposal, including Chair of RACGP Victoria Dr Cameron Loy. He believes the issue of a safe-injecting room should be approached from a health perspective, rather than a criminal one.
‘It is disappointing. I had hoped we could have evidenced-based policy, not ideology-based policy,’ he told newsGP.
Associate Professor Julian Rait, President of the Australian Medical Association of Victoria, is also opposed to the move.
‘I’m convinced [the injecting room] is saving lives and assisting people who would otherwise be at the margins of society,’ he said.
Dr Loy pointed out that the injecting room has gained broad support within Richmond itself, even from some who were initially opposed.
‘The community wants it, the traders in the area want it, the GPs and health services want it,’ he said.
Dr Nico Clark, Medical Director of the safe-injecting room, told newsGP that the facility has seen significant numbers in its four months of operation – to the point where it sometime struggles to meet the demand. There have been no deaths from overdose during the trial.
‘We [have] had 18,800 visits; more than 1500 separate people have come through,’ Dr Clark said.
‘We’ve had 321 overdoses in the first four months, 61 of which required naloxone. We have needed to call an ambulance for only five of those.’
Dr Clark considers these numbers when asked about the potential consequences of closing the safe-injecting room.
‘If there had been no room the last four months, that would have been another 20,000 injections that would have taken place elsewhere,’ he said.
‘We know there are approximately 20 fatal opiate overdoses a year in Richmond, and [we don’t want] to take the chance that somebody would find them.
‘Nobody [who has used the injecting room] has come to any harm from the substances they’ve used.’

Dr-Nico-Clark-Hero.jpgDr Nico Clark, Medical Director of the safe-injecting room, hopes the trial will continue regardless of  the election outcome. (Image: Tracey Nearmy)

Dr Clark also emphasised the fact the facility provides not only a safe place for injection, but also access to further healthcare services, such as addiction treatment and primary and dental care, to a population that is notoriously hard for healthcare professionals to reach.
‘I think that’s the key benefit of a service like this,’ he said.
‘What we’re offering, other than supervising injections, in terms of access to treatment, is nothing that couldn’t be accessed in other places.
‘But by providing a safe space for people to inject which, for a complicated set of reasons, is what they feel like they need to do, often on a daily basis, we are able to gain their trust and link them in with those other healthcare services.’
This can be especially important in the case of people with hepatitis C, for which intravenous drug use is a major risk factor. While a third of the injecting room users Dr Clark and his team have been able to test for the disease require treatment, many have found themselves unable to access that treatment through the mainstream health system.
‘Hepatitis C is a national and a global treatment priority now that we can cure it with these new direct-acting antivirals,’ he said.
‘We’ve set up a treatment pathway where we test them, and we organise and give them the medication. If we were able to systematically test everybody that has come through so far, that would be about 500 people, which would put Victoria over its targets.’
Dr Clark said he is looking forward to a planned expansion of the safe-injecting facility and what it can offer in the future, and hopes this will not be disrupted by this weekend’s state election results.
‘I’d like to think that whatever government is formed after the election, once it realises the benefits of the service, will certainly continue to trial it,’ he said.
‘But we’ll deal with that as it happens.’
Meanwhile, Dr Loy is unequivocal in his belief that closing the Richmond injecting room would be to move backwards.
‘The people dying from overdose in North Richmond were sons, daughters, brothers, parents, friends,’ he said. ‘Closing the safe injecting room places vulnerable Victorians at risk.
‘We can do better.’

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WK   23/11/2018 2:57:02 PM

It sounds good clinically making sure it saves lives . But it is welcoming and naturalizations of drug culture. It is bad in long term from social perspective. It is not an acceptable idea socially.

A. L.   25/11/2018 12:38:36 PM

I am a doctor working in Richmond. I have heard bad feedback about injecting room ,which affect the children, family and business in Richmond . Business along Victoria street is going downhill, multiple shops are closed, people are fearful of going out shopping because of the drug issues in that particular area. For many years ,Richmond peoples are asking for security camera surveillance on the street, get rid of drug trafficking and drug dealers, theirevoices are not heard. Please walk along Victoria street, esp from Hoddle street to Church st to see what are happening , to see the impact of drug issues in this area.

Peter   22/03/2019 6:13:25 PM

I agree with AL. More and.more long established .shops and restaurants are closing. People don't want to frequent an area with rampant drug dealing, drug dealers and it's quite clear the police is turning a blind eye.

I'm not sure which traders are supporting this facility as reported by this article. Maybe ask the owners of shops that are closed !