Melbourne’s first medically supervised injecting room in North Richmond will become permanent. The Victorian Government announced the move today following a five-year-long trial. An independent review of the trial found the room had succeeded in reducing fatal heroin overdoses but that more work was needed to provide support to drug users and improve community safety.
Medically supervised injecting rooms (MSIRs) are facilities allowing drug users to inject themselves in the presence of health professionals without risk of arrest. Their purpose is to minimise the harm of drugs such as heroin. Victoria set up a trial MSIR in 2018 in Richmond in response to a high number of fatal heroin overdoses in the area. It is Australia’s second MSIR, following one set up in Kings Cross in Sydney in 2001. The Victorian Government is considering a second room in Melbourne’s CBD.
An independent review of the North Richmond MSIR found it had achieved successful health outcomes. None of the 6,000 overdoses at the facility during the trial were fatal, saving an estimated 63 lives. Ambulance callouts in the area also decreased. However, the review found it had not succeeded in some of its other aims. One concern identified was local safety, with many residents complaining about gatherings outside the facility. Another was that the facility did not do enough to provide broader health and social support to users of the facility.
According to the review, regular users of the facility have significantly worse health compared to the general population. 35% are homeless and 39% meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (compared to 1% of the general population). The review noted the capacity of the facility to provide ‘wrap-around’ support, such as access to mental health care and housing, was limited and should be improved. The Government has accepted this recommendation and says it will expand the capacity and expertise of the facility’s staff to provide this support.
The review also recommended broadening access to the facility to allow people to inject peers or partners at the facility and to allow access for pregnant people and people on court orders. The review authors argued this could help to improve community perceptions of safety by reducing drug taking outside the facility. The Government has rejected this recommendation but says it will work with the local community on how to “further boost safety”.
Will it pass?
The legislation to make the facility permanent is expected to be passed by the Victorian Parliament. The Government requires the support of either the Coalition or five others to pass through the state’s upper house. The Coalition says it supports an injection room but in a different area, citing concerns about the current location near a primary school. However, the Greens support making the facility permanent.