theage.com.au, May 20, 2013

Renewed calls for safe injecting rooms

 A THREE-fold increase in syringes discarded in the city of Yarra in the last two years has prompted calls for bigger needle bins and syringe vending machines.

New research from the Burnet Institute found drug users are flocking to North Richmond and Abbotsford to inject heroin, leaving disposal bins full to overflowing and thousands of used needles discarded on footpaths, parks and residential driveways.

The report, released today, also called for the introduction of a supervised injection room after reports drug users were borrowing needles and using discarded equipment because they couldn't access sterile needles at night and on weekends.

In a finding described as “very confronting”, police and other authorities are regularly receiving calls from people who have witnessed people injecting in public including near primary schools.

Drug users told researchers it was their desperation to inject that led them to use drugs on the street. Others said they feared being caught by police if they didn't use the drug immediately and get rid of the evidence.

One of the report's authors, Professor Paul Dietze, said researchers had spent about seven-months in Yarra observing the highly-public drug trade. He said in that time it become clear police attempts to crack down on heroin use were failing.

“The operations are very difficult to sustain. People get displaced to a different area for a while then tend to return to the area after the operation,” Prof Dietze said.

“It's pretty easy to go and see regular drug selling and consumption of illicit drugs in the area.”

Within two years there has been almost a three-fold increase in the number of needles and syringes collected by street sweepers and disposal units in Yarra, with over 8000 collected in the four months to August 2012.

Meanwhile, arrest rates in North Richmond and Abbotsford were 3.2 times the state average, while ambulance data shows Yarra had the highest number of heroin overdoses of any Melbourne local government area.

The report's 13 recommendations focussed on building new public amenities and beefing-up harm reduction programs. They included a introducing a peer-administration naloxone program and law changes to aid distribution of sterile injecting equipment.

Prof Dietze called on the state government to introduce a supervised injection room in the area, saying overseas evidence suggests facilities like it stop people injecting in public and reduces injection litter.

“The other thing it does is reduce overdose mortality because people can be responded to immediately,” he said.

The proposed supervised injection room has the strong support of the Greens, with their health spokesperson Richard Di Natale today calling for the new Premier Denis Napthine to shift his government's approach to illicit drugs.

“I would like to see that someone who has his background (as a vet) know that we need a more-evidence based approach,” the former drug and alcohol clinician said.

“The old parties cannot continue to hide behind their 'tough on drugs' rhetoric while people die unnecessarily, the community is exposed to risks and local traders are suffering.

“It's very easy to mouth some slogans and have the ideological political response when you're not living with it every day.”

Source - Burnet Institut

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