Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Safe injecting rooms - a necessary step towards harm minimization

Drugs is an emotional issue. At one extreme are those who argue for a zero tolerance approach. At the other extreme are those who argue for legalization of all drugs. In between - where most people can agree - is the need to minimize harm.

When it comes to minimizing harm from heroin use, safe injecting rooms are a proven solution.

Research findings now show the value of safe injecting rooms

In Sydney, Vancouver, Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, safe injecting rooms have been a success.

Insite in Vancouver
  • Decreased public injection
  • Reduced dangerous syringe sharing
  • Reduced HIV risk behaviour
  • Reduction in publicly discarded syringes
  • Increase in addicts seeking treatment and detox
  • Reduction in measures of public disorder
  • Less bacterial infections such as cellulitis and endocarditis
A major cross-national study by Australian and Dutch universities showed that:

Findings ... have been encouraging. In some areas public nuisance has been minimized, the number of overdose deaths and complications from non-fatal overdoses have decreased, BBV risk behaviour has decreased and health and social functioning of clients have improved.

The Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre has also published statistics over its decade of operation that confirms the value of the facility:
  • 3,500 overdoses managed without a single fatality
  • Publicly discarded needles and syringes has halved
  • 80% reduction in ambulance call outs to Kings Cross
  • More than 8,500 referrals to health and social welfare services.
The Australian and Dutch study identified a range of measures that should be adopted to minimise harm from heroin use.  They concluded:

The trial of supervised injecting centres in Australia represents just one new intervention within a much broader existing harm reduction framework. Additional and complementary interventions may include the distribution of naloxone to drug users, low threshold methadone, needle and syringe exchange in prison, pre-release methadone programmes for prisoners, the facilitation of IDUs to move to non-injecting routes of drug use and the expansion of opioid pharmacotherapies. 

So with so much evidence, why is there opposition to safe injecting rooms?

Based on the facts, politicians, lawyers, health professionals, police, and even church leaders support at least a trial of safe injecting rooms. (Read more from The Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform)

So why is the Sydney facility the only one in Australia?

Perhaps it is because the only political party to treat drug issues as a core policy is the Australian Sex Party

A key Sex Party's policy is to Legalise and increase the number of medically supervised injecting rooms.  

Given all the evidence, this just seems so sensible.

So, who would oppose harm minimisation and safe injecting rooms?

The FCV doesnt' represent
the views of learned churchmen
such as Rev Harry Herbert
Well, at present, there are two main opponents - the Family Council of Victoria and the Victorian Liberal Government.

The FCV is a collection of anti-abortion, anti-drug, radical Christian groups. They do not represent the mainstream view of the churches in Australia. In fact, the Sydney injecting room is run by UnitingCare, and headed by the Reverend Harry Herbert.

So, the Victorian Liberal government is choosing to align with a radical group of Christians, who don't represent the majority of churchgoers, so that Ted Baillieu can say: "We haven't supported injecting rooms, we won't support injecting rooms"

It just doesn't make sense.

Harm minimisation should be a core focus of any public policy.  Safe injecting rooms are critical to minimise harm for drug use and should be introduced without delay.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

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