Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment Bill 2020: Second Reading

Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (16:30): It is an honour to be able to speak this afternoon on the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment Bill 2020. I thank the Minister for Health, his ministerial office and the department for the work that they have done to bring this important legislation before this house, which will save lives. I was in the house and I was very pleased to hear both of our parliamentary secretaries for health, the member for Ivanhoe as well as the member for Melton, talk about this legislation and why it is important to them.

I would like to reflect on the contribution of the member for Melton in his former life as a very important paramedic. He spoke with real insight and provided such an important part of the story in terms of our paramedics who find people regularly when they are working on shifts who have overdosed and need to do all they can to save these people. It was very interesting to hear about his lived experience of being on a shift and sometimes actually reviving the same person multiple times.

If you just think of our paramedics, they are faced with so many challenging situations on every shift. I have only the utmost admiration for our paramedics and our ambos in Victoria. We have such an incredible group of people who work so hard as paramedics, so I would really like to thank them.

I would also like to thank our nurses, our doctors and our clinicians who work in our emergency departments and who also provide care to people who have overdosed—this is very challenging—as well as those in our community health services.

This legislation will allow access to essential and life-saving harm-reduction products, including the supply of syringes and medication, including naloxone. It will come into operation on a day or days to be proclaimed or 4 August 2021 if not proclaimed before that date. At the heart of this bill are measures that are focused on life-saving harm minimisation arising from the misuse of drugs of dependence. This approaches the issue of opioid addiction as a health concern and through a lens of care and compassion.

This bill will widen the authorisation under the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 in relation to the supply of hypodermic needles and syringes. The safer distribution of and access to syringes will reduce the spread of bloodborne diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. I am very grateful to the member for Brunswick for his explanation about how Australia compares to other parts of the world in terms of how our needle exchanges have meant that we have had less spread of these diseases. It is always good to have the member for Brunswick able to really provide us that insight, so thank you to him as well.

This bill will also allow for the supply, possession and administration of naloxone or other schedule 2 or schedule 3 poisons for the treatment of opioid overdoses and for other purposes. This will bring Victoria into line with other Australian jurisdictions by allowing health workers in registered needle and syringe programs to directly dispense naloxone to clients who are at risk of or who may witness an opioid overdose.

Our government is also committed to developing options to increase the role of peers in naloxone programs, with the aim to further allow peers to deliver valuable health interventions. This means that someone who has had an overdose will have a greater chance of survival if one of their peers who is with them is able to act instantly, which is very important.

This bill does not create any new offences, but it does create a new exemption to a range of drug offences under the act for a person who sells or supplies hypodermic needles or syringes obtained from a Victorian needle safety program. I would really like to be clear to the community that the proposed amendments to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 are not to encourage intravenous drug use but to reduce harm and save lives.

When introducing new legislation it is very important that we engage with relevant stakeholders, and in regard to this bill the Victorian alcohol and drug service providers have strongly agitated for change to improve access to naloxone and sterile injecting equipment. I also would like to take this opportunity to thank all our alcohol and drug services workers for the job that they do day after day.

So with this high level of stakeholder engagement regarding this issue, I am very proud to be part of a government that listens to the community and responds appropriately. In recent years there has been growing recognition by various governments and community that a greater balance between traditional law enforcement and health-based responses will have a broader positive effect on health and safety of communities.

Going back to 2015, the Victorian Parliament’s Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee was tasked with the very important job of inquiring into the effectiveness of laws and procedures relating to illicit and synthetic drugs and prescription medicine. Its recommendations included that the Victorian government develop a new drug strategy based on the four pillars of prevention, law enforcement, treatment and harm reduction.

In August 2018 the Victorian government published its response to the inquiry, and the response included a new commitment to Victoria’s needle safety program to remove the outdated restrictions on peer distribution of sterile injecting equipment.

The Andrews Labor government has provided record support to Victoria’s alcohol and drug treatment sector and made significant reforms to reduce drug-related harm in this state. Harm reduction initiatives that acknowledge the reality of drug and alcohol use and minimise its effect on the community are a critical element of this government’s approach to drug policy in Victoria.

This bill will reinforce the progressive and caring ideals that support our most vulnerable Victorians, just like we have done with the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and the decriminalisation of public drunkenness. The changes we are introducing will mean that it will no longer be an offence for a person to give sterile injecting equipment to someone else. This will legitimise an existing and effective harm-reduction practice and in doing so support the government’s commitment to eliminate the transmission of HIV and eliminate hepatitis B and C as public health concerns by 2030, just nine years away from now.

These initiatives are complemented by our government’s delivery of major evidence-based reforms to reduce drug-related harm, including the introduction of real-time prescription monitoring—I was pleased to join the former Minister for Health, the member for Altona, when she came to Ballarat to do a launch of that event—and Victoria’s first supervised injecting room in North Richmond.

The success of the facility in North Richmond in saving lives and engaging people who use drugs with health services has validated the government’s recent announcement to proceed with a second supervised injecting room in the City of Melbourne.

Australia wide, opioids have been the leading type of substance present in drug-induced deaths over the last 20 years, with a large proportion of these resulting from unintentional overdoses. In this context the use of naloxone is particularly important. Opioid overdose deaths remain unacceptably high in Australia. In 2017 there were 2162 overdoses nationally. According to coronial data for Victoria 540 people died from an overdose in Victoria in 2018, an increase of 58 per cent from 2010, with rates of fatality involving illicit opioids, including heroin and pharmaceutical drugs, historically high. For perspective, the road toll for last year was 211 people, and in 2018 we lost 580 Victorians to overdose.

In Ballarat between 2014 and 2018 in the community that I represent there were 29 unintentional overdoses. Sadly, 29 people are no longer with us—not here for birthdays, celebrations, weddings or important dates.

Loved ones lost due to overdose are missed every day, and I know this firsthand from families who have lost people to overdose.

I recommend this bill to the house. It is important legislation.


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