Minister and GPs reassure residents about allowing ice in Melbourne safe injecting room

Amanda Lyons

12/04/2018 12:48:18 PM

The Victorian Government’s decision to allow the use of ice in the North Richmond safe injecting facility was made with advice from police, addiction experts and frontline first responders, Mental Health Minister Martin Foley said.

The North Richmond Community Health is located in an area where as many as 20% of all Victorian heroin-overdose deaths occur. (Image: Joe Castro; AAP)
The North Richmond Community Health is located in an area where as many as 20% of all Victorian heroin-overdose deaths occur. (Image: Joe Castro; AAP)

Needles littering the streets, children discovering overdose victims on their way to school. These are some of the daily realities for many people who live in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Richmond, Australia’s heroin capital.

And now that the Victorian Government has reversed its earlier decision and will now allow the use of ice at the planned safe injecting facility at North Richmond Community Health, some local residents feel concerned, anticipating an increase in crime, drug use and aggressive behaviour from methamphetamine users.

However, Victorian Mental Health Minister Martin Foley has stated the decision was made with the advice of an expert panel containing representatives from healthcare, law enforcement and the community.

‘The alternative is that people are on the streets in an unsupervised [and] dangerous to them, dangerous to the community set of circumstances,’ Minister Foley said. ‘Given that most of the drug users, sadly, are poly-drug users addicted to a range of things, the best advice was that we should cater [for ice].’

According to Dr Hester Wilson, GP and Chair of the RACGP Addiction Medicine Specific Interests network, the success of the Sydney safe injecting facility in Kings Cross, which has never had restrictions against ice, also supports the decision.

‘There were concerns it would be a honeypot for drug users, there would be increased crime, it would encourage more people to use,’ she told newsGP.

‘But, in fact, that wasn’t the case at all, and the local residents who were initially concerned about the facility are now its greatest proponents, because they are no longer finding syringes in their yard, or being awoken at two am in the morning by the ambulance for the person overdosed on their front doorstep.

‘Crime hasn’t gone up and we haven’t seen more people flooding into the Kings Cross area to use.’

There have also been many positive outcomes for those using the facility.

‘The injecting centre in Kings Cross has a really high rate of referral into treatment,’ Dr Wilson said. ‘It’s a great opportunity to engage with a disenfranchised and marginalised group of people, to get them to engage in their mental health care, their drug and alcohol care, their physical care.’

Dr Cameron Loy, GP and Chair of RACGP Victoria, agrees and points out that the purpose of safe injecting facilities is harm minimisation.

‘We’re looking at drugs that are being consumed in the North Richmond area already,’ he told newsGP. ‘We know over the last few years there has been significant problems with needles and syringes in schools, on the street, in houses. And we know, importantly, there have been deaths as a result of drug overdoses in that particular area.

‘So what you’re doing is taking drugs that are already being used and you’re putting them in a place where there is supervision.’

While Dr Loy emphasises that not taking drugs at all is the safest course of action, he is supportive of ensuring that people who do are doing so have access to conditions that are as safe as possible.

‘There are a number of Victorians who are people’s brothers and sisters, mums and dads, children and friends, who have been dying in that particular area from drug overdoses,’ he said. ‘The primary objective here is care of the community, and this is a highly vulnerable group of people.'

‘In all the years of operation of the Kings Cross injecting room, there has not been a single fatality in the centre.'

‘So if you can go from a really dangerous activity, which is injecting drugs on the street, to injecting in a supervised setting, your chances of overdose death go away.’

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