October 31, 2017

Richmond gets trial Supervised Injecting Room

The Andrews government has approved a trial run of a safe injecting room for heroin addicts.

Key upper house MP James Purcell confirmed on Monday that his vital vote would go with legislation to enable a state-sanctioned injecting room in the inner-city neighbourhood of Richmond, where dozens of lives have been lost to heroin overdoses in recent years.

If established, the injecting room would be the first in Victoria, and only the second in Australia, after NSW established one in Kings Cross in 2001.

It's believed the trial would run for at least two years, followed by a review.

This is a significant reversal of Premier Daniel Andrews' long-held opposition to legalising medical supervision of addicts injecting illegal substances.

The Age revealed on Monday that 34 people have lost their lives to drug overdoses so far in 2017 in the Yarra local council area, which covers North Richmond, an increase of more than 40 per cent on the average annual death rate in the area.

The surge in deaths, and a new coroners' report into heroin-related deaths in the area due for publication in the coming days, have put renewed pressure on the government to consider reversing its opposition to an injecting room.

As part of its response to the drugs crisis gripping the state, the Andrews' government has announced another 100 drug and alcohol rehabilitation beds, many of them in regional Victoria, as part of the $53 million package of policies.

But the rehab places do not address the immediate issue of deaths around the Victoria Street area of North Richmond.

Vote 1 Local Jobs MP James Purcell expressed strong support on Monday for an injecting room trial.

"The research shows in other places they work well," Mr Purcell said.

"They don't have the negative impact that everyone fears they would have.

"I think it would save lives."

Mr Purcell's vote, as well as those of the Greens and Reason Party MP Fiona Patten, who has a bill legalising the injecting room already before parliament, gives the government the upper house numbers it needs to open an injecting room.

The parliamentary position means the Coalition, which opposes the idea of a safe injecting centre, would be powerless to stop the idea going ahead.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the Coalition did not support an injecting room but the government not yet presented any proposals.

"Unless there is some material from the government that is vastly different I don't think our point of view will change," he said.

The government has consistently refused to respond to the growing speculation that a decision was imminent.

Police Minister Lisa Neville said a parliamentary inquiry was currently before the government for consideration.

She said Mental Health Minister Martin Foley and Mr Andrews had been talking to "key stakeholders" about the response to the inquiry.

Ms Neville said it was important to focus on drug prevention and trafficking balanced with support and rehabilitation for people who were suffering from addiction.

Residents and shopkeepers in North Richmond have been calling all year for such a facility, which has the support of paramedics, nurses and firefighters' unions, and the police union recently announced they no longer oppose it.

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