Drugs, Poisons And Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2017 Second Reading

15 Nov 2017

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I rise in support of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2017 and the creation of a supervised injecting centre in North Richmond. This medically supervised injecting centre will save lives and it will reduce the number of overdoses that are currently occurring in the back streets, alleyways and bathrooms in North Richmond. It will act as a gateway to the services and treatments that those people will need. It will get used syringes off the streets. It is long overdue

There probably has not been a Greens candidate over the last 10 years or so who has not copped it over their support of supervised injecting rooms. So I am really glad now, and the Greens are really glad, to see this legislation brought before Parliament. We really are hoping that it will pass this house and the upper house as well.

When the government announced their support for the measure the Premier said a lot of things that I agreed with. He said that it was time to deal with this issue with compassion and empathy. He said that it was not just a law and order issue, that it was a health issue. He said that you cannot get treatment if you are dead. I agreed with all those things, but I would have agreed with them last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

The fact is that it should not have taken this long for the bill to be introduced. The Richmond community have wanted this, as have the local council, health services and many of the traders. There has been an increase in the number of people overdosing in North Richmond, and there have been calls for this centre for years. It should not have got to crisis point before this decision was made. I do not say this just to have a go. I say it in the hope that this is a turning point for this state. For this government and for future governments I hope that this is a case of the evidence coming before politics. There is no doubt that these decisions are tough politically. There will be future reforms involving pill testing or an early warning system, the placement of needle exchange programs or other locations for supervised injecting rooms. So I really do hope that this bill is a step towards evidence coming first when it comes to drugs and drug policy.

Supervised injecting rooms are not a new concept. They have been operating around the world. One was first was opened in Switzerland in the early 1980s. There are more than 100 around the world, all contributing to that evidence that these centres do reduce the risk of overdose, save lives and reduce the costs to society.

In Sydney we have had a centre that has been open since 2001, and it has effectively managed over 6000 drug overdoses. Many of those could have gone the other way and people could have died. They have referred around 11 000 people to treatment; this would not have occurred otherwise. This centre has been a success, and it again provides the evidence as to why we need this centre, particularly in North Richmond.

The North Richmond community, and the City of Yarra community, have been forced to deal with this issue, to clean up this mess, because previous governments have not had the courage to act. We have got the highest frequency of heroin overdose deaths of any local government in Victoria: 34 deaths in Richmond last year, which was an increase of 3 from 2011; and 59 deaths in 2015. If there was a supervised injecting room some of these lives could have been saved.

But it is not just about saving lives. It is about that referral to other services. It is about reducing the risk of blood-borne diseases, which is a risk not just for intravenous drug users but to the whole community. We are already providing needle-exchange programs, and this is another step on top of that — to provide that space, the supervised injecting room, for a person to go and inject those drugs.

This measure will take the strain off emergency services that are getting the call-outs to the overdoses. I was really shocked to see from the parliamentary committee’s report the number of those call-outs that involved violence against emergency services workers and of course risk to their health from needlestick injuries. It will address the concerns of residents and traders who are having to clean up their front yards and pavements from used needles; they themselves are having to call out emergency services. So this will have a positive impact on the Yarra community.

As I said, there has been a lot of support. We saw from the parliamentary inquiry that 46 of the 49 submissions supported the trial. We had organisations such as the Public Health Association of Australia, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, ambulance employees, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. We heard from the coroner, who stated that they were:

… convinced that a safe injecting facility in North Richmond is an essential intervention that could reduce the risk of future heroin overdose deaths …

We have had the Police Association Victoria announce their support.

I think from the inquiry itself I can address some of the concerns around some of the issues that were raised by some opposition speakers. While we saw that the City of Yarra has the highest rate of overdoses, we also saw that in Yarra, in terms of overdoses, many of those people overdosing came from outside Yarra — 68 per cent versus 31 per cent who lived in the area. Those numbers are generally inverted when it comes to other local government. It is a fact too that 48 per cent of those overdoses occurred in a non-residential setting, while for example, in the City of Melbourne it was 32 per cent and in Greater Dandenong it was 10 per cent. So the need for this to occur in Yarra, where people are not injecting in their own homes or someone else’s home, is clearer than ever.

In terms of some of the details in this bill, people will have to declare to this facility the type and quantity of drugs they are carrying to exempt themselves from criminal liability. They have to be over 18 years old, and if there is any doubt, they will be asked for ID.

Opposition speakers pointed to the need for research as well, and I am glad that was brought up. They were asking questions like, ‘Are people just going to use this and are they going to keep using? Are they going to have an overdose somewhere else?’. It is interesting, because I was at the Burnet Institute just recently, and they are undertaking a longitudinal study — I think that is the correct term — of intravenous drug users. They are tracking those users — their health, their drug use — and they will have the ability when this supervised injecting centre opens to incorporate that within their own research. There are research organisations that will have the ability to really dig down into how the injecting centre will help and into what the patterns of use are for people who use that centre. The ability is there, and I do not think it is fair for the opposition speakers to raise these sorts of concerns and say that this will not actually work when there is a body of evidence to suggest that it will.

It is really clear that the traditional way, the law and order approach to illicit drug problems and abuse, really is not working. We have seen over many years a shift in the right direction to a health-based approach, but reforms like this are steps in the right direction. We know that there are really complex issues around drug use and drug abuse — interrelated health issues, social issues, childhood trauma, poor mental health management, homelessness — and having a supervised injecting centre will really open the door to allow more people to access services that will help them.

We do need this supervised injecting centre. We do need to have that focus on health and harm reduction. We need to put evidence-based policies first. So the Greens are certainly supporting this bill — it has been Greens policy for many years — and we will also be encouraging the government to continue, as they have done, I feel, with this bill, to put evidence and harm reduction first; to embrace other drug law reforms, such as pill testing at festivals and a warning system for when there are dangerous batches of drugs out on the street; and to continue to make sure that we have got further investment in drug treatment programs, rehabilitation and social services. The Greens will be supporting this bill. I am hopeful that it will pass this house, and I hope that it will pass the upper house as well.

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