Safe injecting room given go ahead in Richmond

The North Richmond Community Health Centre
Identification of collective contributors withheld for their protection

In the wake of a rising number of drug use related deaths, a growing addiction problems and the associated harmful impacts on the wider community, the present approach of dealing with the drug problem as a law and order matter, is proving to be a dismal failure.

The evidence shows that a very different approach is needed.

Criminalisation has has had the effect of creating a lucrative black market that is in the tight control of organised crime, which has used the trade to spread its corrupting influence, as well as make a fortune out of the vulnerable.

Organised crime is the real winner of the law and order approach.

To change this, something has to be done to cut the supply of victims who, for whatever reason, have fallen into addiction, life on the margins of society and an outlaw lifestyle. They are the conduits between organised crime and its parasitic business. Surely the best approach must involve breaking this connection?

The alternative is to recognise that drug addiction, whether that involves meth possession or any other aspect of the situation, as a health problem that needs to be approached like any other health problem. In a civilised society we consider, without prejudice, providing the best treatment possible the saving of lives to an important human right. The law and order approach has violated this principle and in doing so has diminished Australian society. This alternative approach, also provides the means to separate the addicted from organised crime.

These are realities that anyone in contact with the drug scene, whether they be health practitioners, community workers, lawyers, addicts and families and friends of addicts, know very well. This is why the ideas of treating he matter as a health problem and the concept of harm minimisation are held so strongly by these members of the Australian community. Most support the introduction of safe injecting rooms.

Paramedics, who regularly deal with overdoses, have made it clear that they are in support of a safe injecting room. The police are not going to oppose it, because they feel the present merry go round of repeated arrests of addicted people, achieves nothing and is a waste of time and resources.

This sort of facility continues to draw flak from some. The objection is based on a misconception of what a safe injection room is about. For them, it conjures up a vision of a virtual drug supermarket, handing out cheap drugs to anyone who wants them. They fear a run-away drug epidemic will result.

The point is the epidemic is already here and it calls for a radical solution.

A safe injecting room is not a virtual drug supermarket, but a medical facility. Like other medical facilities, drugs are prescribed under specific conditions to treat a recognised health issue. In a safe injection room, what is prescribed is administered in the premises and not taken home by the patient. Everything takes place under the supervision of doctors and other relevant professionals. The purpose is to have a range of services in place and build pathways that will provide the best chance, of eventually overcoming the addiction and returning to a better life.

For this reason, the announcement of Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews that his government will now move to give the green light to a safe injecting room could not have come at a better time. Under the proposal, the facility will run as a pilot for two years, which can then be extended for a further five years and further review at the end of this time.

Daniel Andrews has also announced the intention to extend the policing of major illegal drug distribution. The implication is that the attention of the law will be focussed on organised crime instead of the user. This is complimentary to the concept of a safe injecting room.

Richmond, in Melbourne’s inner east, has a major drug trade hot spot on the northern border, around Victoria Street. It’s been there for years and residents and traders have been calling for action to clean up the trade, which is believed puts them at risk and costs business.

Discarded syringes are everywhere, intoxicated people and beggars are a part of the local scenery. Ambulances dealing with emergencies and the presence of police are an everyday occurrence.

The local attitude towards users has not always been positive. But this has been changing, as more people come to realise that the approach that has been applied is not working. Most now support a local safe injection room as the only realistic solution.

Yarra City Council has been campaigning for a facility in its own turf.

Paramedics attending to an overdose at Lennox Street in Richmond

Discarded syringes at just one location in Richmond


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