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abc.net.au, May 24, 2011

Drug injecting rooms: what do you think?

With the recent controversy surrounding proposed drug injecting rooms in Melbourne, Richelle Hunt has travelled to Kings Cross to investigate how they work - and if they work.

Last week Melbourne's Yarra City Council voted in favour of trialing a drug injecting room in Richmond.

The motion aimed at cutting the amount of drug use - and the number of drug overdoses - along the suburb's main shopping strip of Victoria St.

However Victoria St traders came out against the proposal, saying they would prefer street cameras to deal with the problem.

Finally Premier Ted Baillieu announced that he would veto any injecting room trial.

"We haven't supported injecting rooms, we won't support injecting rooms, and I don't support the normalisation of any of this sort of behaviour," says the Premier.

Talkback callers to 774 ABC Melbourne, however, were largely in favour of the notion of safe injecting rooms for users of heroin and other drugs.

So do safe injecting rooms work - and who do they work for?

Paster Graham Long is from Wayside Chapel, who provide meals, changes of clothing and counselling services for homeless and disadvantaged people in Kings Cross.

He says the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre has made a huge impact.

"We know that we were picking up in the order of 130 needles a day at the front of the chapel - these days if we pick up two or three we think we're having a very bad day," he says.

Paster Long says the injecting room looks like any other shopfront or medical centre.

"It just doesn't stand out," he says.

A trader directly opposite the Sydney MSIC disagrees.

He says there are always 'people you don't want' hanging around outside.

"You have a huge honeybee effect," he says.

He claims his business has suffered 50 per cent losses since the Sydney MSIC opened.

"A lot of the locals don't like coming through here now because of the injection centre and the people it attracts," he says.

Some other people who live and work in the area agreed, with one man saying that he saw drug deals being done nearby to the centre all the time.

However, Family Drug Support's Tony Trimingham says the centre has made Kings Cross a more pleasant place.

"10 years ago any time of day you would have been confronted - you couldn't sit down and have a pleasant cup of coffee without seeing somthing that would offend you.," says Tony.

"The Cross is definitely cleaner," he says.

Tony says there was initially resistance from traders in Vancouver when he went over in 2000 to help set up a similar centre there.

He says these same traders are now the injecting centre's biggest supporters.

Tony Trimingham started Family Drug Support after his son died of an overdose.

He says he'd like to meet with Premier Baillieu and tell him his story and the story of other parents whose children have died of drug overdoses.

"Drug overdose deaths are preventable," says Tony.

The owner of the business opposite, though, says Victoria St's traders are lucky to have a Premier such as Ted Baillieu.

He says Richmond's traders should do 'everything they could do' to fight any proposed injection centre.

These interviews were conducted by Richelle Hunt, who has travelled to Kings Cross, the site of the only legal injecting room in the country, to look in detail at how it is working there. Have your say in the comments below.

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