Injecting room goes on despite drug arrests and independent review

Amanda Lyons

28/10/2019 2:24:40 PM

The facility hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons last week, but the Victorian Government continues to support the trial.

North Richmond safe injecting room.
The North Richmond safe injecting room will continue its two-year trial.

A police investigation into drug trafficking in Richmond resulted in eight arrests last week, including of two outreach workers linked to the Melbourne safe injecting room (MSIR) trial.
‘It’s been an enormous disappointment overnight, obviously, with the alleged behaviour of people in relation to the outreach service,’ acting Mental Health Minister Luke Donnellan told reporters last week.
‘Those allegations are simply unacceptable.’
Victorian Police clarified there were no allegations of any offences occurring within the MSIR, or the North Richmond Community Health centre of which it is a part. However, the centre’s Chief Executive Demos Krouskos has been stood down while the Victorian Government conducts an urgent review into the allegations against staff who were under its employ.
‘We need to ensure that we are following best practice in the employment of people in this outreach service,’ Minister Donnellan said.
‘These people are here to assist people to get off drugs and access health services and when you have these allegations that is undermined.’
Meanwhile, the Victorian Government has maintained its support for the MSIR’s two-year trial, which will continue with Dr Nico Clark as its Medical Director.
Richmond residents have long been concerned the MRIS would have a ‘honeypot’ effect, and Victorian Shadow Minister for Police and Community Safety David Southwick believes the arrests prove them correct, even referring to the injecting room trial as ‘state-sponsored drug trafficking’.
‘What else needs to go wrong before the Andrews Government starts listening to the community concerns regarding this drug injecting facility?’ he said.
‘In 15 months, Daniel Andrews has turned a safe community health centre with a thriving maternal and child service into a drug-dealing hotspot.’
Yarra Councillor Stephen Jolly has acknowledged community concerns around increasing drug-related behaviour in the area.
‘That injecting facility is working for those who use it, about 200 people a day,’ he told newsGP  earlier this year. ‘It’s saved 140 lives and that’s all great.
‘But it’s not stopping another cohort of people who aren’t using it, for a whole range of reasons, from coming to the area to use drugs. The anti-social behaviour is through the roof.’
Cr Jolly remains supportive of the injecting room despite these concerns and, while he agrees its accompanying problems need to be addressed, he believes it should be done by providing additional support rather than closing down the MSIR.
‘We have to have further measures to try and get [people who use drugs] off the street, and to also get these people into programs that are going to help them break the addiction cycle,’ Cr Jolly said.
‘If we don’t come along with extra programs to fix the problems, if we just leave it at the injecting facility, it will mentally demoralise people.’

Dr Hester Wilson believes the recent arrests should not be used as a reason to close Victoria's safe injecting room trial. 

Dr Hester Wilson, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine network, agrees that while the allegations are serious and should be properly investigated, they should not be seen as a reason to shut down or move the facility.
‘It’s been put [in Richmond] because that is where that group of people already are – they live in that area, they come to that area,’ she said.
Citing the experience of Sydney’s safe injecting room in King’s Cross, Dr Wilson argued the MSIR can have a positive impact on the community and reduce the negative impacts of drug use.
‘What we found in Sydney was that public amenity was improved by the injecting centre, because people weren’t leaving their syringes around, they weren’t overdosing in the streets, they were going to the centre and using in safer circumstances,’ she said.
‘And that’s one of the triumphs of the supervised injecting centre, that the level of referral to treatment and social welfare and health supports for a very marginalised, very high-risk group of people.’
But many Richmond locals are not so convinced, according to David Horseman, spokesperson of a residents committee.
‘Among residents I talk to, very much the sentiment is starting to shift from “move the injecting room” to “shut it down”,’ he told The Age.
‘They feel the Government is willing to sacrifice their community by being bloody-minded in relation to the location.’
This swing in opinion seems evidence of the demoralisation within the Richmond community raised by Cr Jolly earlier in the year.
‘There’s an increasing minority that want [MSIR] to be moved, and there’s an increasing minority that want it closed down, out of desperation,’ he said. ‘And these are … local, progressive people that are pulling their hair out.’
However, Minister Donellan feels the figures speak for themselves and said he remains committed to seeing the trial through to its end.
‘The medically supervised injecting room trial is about keeping Victorians safe and saving lives, and that’s what the evidence shows it is doing,’ he said.
‘Since [MSIR] opened more than 12 months ago, staff in the facility have safely managed more than 1800 overdoses, many of which may have been fatal or resulted in serious injury if they had happened outside the MSIR.’
newsGP contacted the MSIR for comment.
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Addiction medicine Harm minimisation Illicit drugs North Richmond Safe injecting room Victoria

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