With laws to support Victoria’s first medically supervised injecting centre now coming into effect, and officials pushing ahead with plans to have the facility operational by mid-year, local tensions around the initiative remain acute.
At a meeting in North Richmond last night attended by The Citizen, around 50 local residents heard updates on the fast-looming trial from state health officials. While most residents at the meeting indicated support for the initiative, several raised concerns and some voiced strong opposition.
A central focus of discussion during the sometimes heated meeting was the proximity of the centre to West Richmond Primary School. The facility, to supervise the injection of illicit drugs, is to be set up at the existing North Richmond Community Centre on Lennox Street. The school and the community centre are separated by a car park.
In 2017, in the wake of concerns about the large number of lives being lost to drug-related overdoses, the Andrews Government announced it would trial a medically supervised injecting room (MSIR). The State Coroner called for such a trial after an inquest into an unprecedented spate of deaths identified 172 heroin overdose fatalities in 2015 in Victoria.
The Minister for Mental Health, Martin Foley, said yesterday the trial was “about saving lives and reducing the harm drugs cause to the community, and guiding clients to the appropriate treatment and support to end their addiction”.
Some residents expressed concerns that the facility may become a honeypot for dealers and users and soften police strategies in dealing with them. Senior Sergeant Andrew Brick assured the meeting this would not be the case.
The Department of Health and Human Services advised residents that the trial would open in a temporary facility (layout pictured above), which would be replaced by a purpose-built centre by mid-2019. The position of medical director for the facility has been advertised, and an appointment is pending.
The trial is aimed at reducing the number of overdose deaths and harm in the North Richmond area, the epicentre of Melbourne’s opioid crisis. Strong emphasis is also being placed on improving neighbourhood amenity for local residents and businesses, while reducing the number of discarded needles and syringes in the neighbouring public areas.
Benjamin Ansell is researching and producing a podcast series on Australian drug policy for The Citizen which will be available later this year.
You can find earlier reporting on this issue by The Citizen here: Overdose deaths drive new Melbourne push for safe injecting room (July 8,2017)