Medically Supervised Injecting Facilities: Matter of Public Importance

Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (18:49): I too welcome the opportunity to contribute to this discussion about how we should treat vulnerable Victorians who are experiencing issues of drug addiction. I am proud that the Andrews Labor government addresses the issues of opioid addiction as a health concern, through a lens of care and compassion.

This is in direct contrast to the attitudes of the member for Lowan. With regard to the matter of public importance submitted by the member for Lowan, I want to take the member to task on her language, calling the medically supervised injecting rooms ‘drug-injecting rooms’. The medically supervised injecting room situated at North Richmond Community Health provides health support and intervention if an overdose occurs. It is about providing medical support by trained clinicians and offers other wraparound services to clients.

I am disappointed by the alarmist approach of the opposition regarding this matter: frightening people and scapegoating. I agree with the member for Melton as well as the member for Footscray that the opposition is dog whistling, and it is reminiscent of the attacks on Victoria’s African community in the lead-up to the 2018 state election.

Melbourne is a wonderful city, one of the great cities of the world, recognised for its cultural institutions, its multicultural communities and its diversity and acceptance. Melbourne is a compassionate city, and we cannot pretend that this is not happening in our streets. The opposition’s deliberate scaremongering tactic is divisive and unwelcome, and it will not work. Victorians are decent people. Sadly the opposition are more interested in blaming and marginalising people with drug issues than supporting them.

People with addictions have loving families and friends who care deeply about them.

Ms Britnell interjected.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Member for South-West Coast, you are not in your allocated seat. I would ask you not to interject.

Ms ADDISON: It is heartbreaking to see the impact of drug addiction on someone you care about. As I make this contribution, I am thinking about one of my schoolfriends who is no longer with us after a long period of struggling with addiction because of an overdose. I strongly support harm minimisation and a compassionate approach to supporting people struggling with addiction.

I really want to acknowledge the member for Richmond. He is also the Minister for Planning and Minister for Housing, but he is the member for Richmond. He has devoted his life to his community, to the City of Melbourne and this state. He is a servant of the people, and his community always comes first. He is one of the most amazing, strong, wonderful people in this house, and the way that he is just attacked by the opposition is a disgrace.

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 alcohol and drug use and minimise its effect on the community are a critical element of this government’s approach to drug policy in Victoria. We are a government with progressive and caring ideals that support the most vulnerable Victorians, just like we have done with the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and the decriminalisation of public drunkenness. Our government is delivering major evidence-based reforms to reduce drug-related harm in Victoria, introducing real-time prescription monitoring and Victoria’s first supervised injecting room in North Richmond.

The North Richmond supervised injecting room opened as a transitional facility first in June 2018, before moving to the larger services at North Richmond Community Health in July 2019. The facility is designed to address complex and longstanding health and social issues in the North Richmond area and to respond to the tragic yet avoidable deaths occurring from drug overdoses.

The Coroners Court data for the four years to 2016 showed a majority of overdose deaths were occurring in public places, and from this a coroner’s inquest recommended a supervised injecting trial be established in North Richmond. The subsequent trial facility includes access to several services: alcohol and other drug treatment, primary care, oral health, bloodborne virus treatment, mental health support, housing and homelessness services, and legal support.

I thank all of the workers who support them: the social workers, the community outreach workers, the housing officers, the nurses, the ambos—everyone who puts their life on the line to support these people who need it the most. We know that these wraparound services work.

An independent evaluation released last year shows that the North Richmond location is doing exactly what it was designed to do: it is saving lives. The independent panel reviewed the North Richmond trial after 18 months of operation and found that in those first 18 months the North Richmond supervised injecting room saw 119 000 visits and saved at least 21 lives, and the figures looking at the first 21 months of operation show that the site facilitated safe responses to more than 3200 overdoses, some of which otherwise would have resulted in serious injury or been fatal had they occurred elsewhere. To the end of March 2020 around 1 per cent of overdoses at the facility required an ambulance and more than 90 per cent were safely managed without needing naloxone. This is because in this facility staff can intervene much earlier and help can be given outside in the community.

These first 21 months saw more than 13 000 other onsite health and social services provided as well as almost 2000 referrals to external service providers. This provides an accessible, low-cost opportunity to engage with a cohort in our community that is typically hard to reach. It is about connecting services and providing help to those that need it most.

The review panel, on the basis of evidence, recommended that the medically supervised injecting room be extended, but they also advised that a second site should be located in the City of Melbourne and it was urgently required. Looking at the evidence again, let us have a look why—

Ms Staley interjected.

Ms ADDISON: Because we are looking at the evidence. Between January 2015 and 2019, 51 heroin-related overdoses occurred in the City of Melbourne. The City of Melbourne has the highest number of heroin-related deaths in non-residential areas. It is second only to the City of Yarra. We know from the expert advice that supervised injecting rooms need to be where drug use is most prevalent.

Ms Staley interjected.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Member for Ripon, I would ask you to cease interjections. The member for Wendouree to continue, without assistance.

Ms ADDISON: Thank you very much, Deputy Speaker. I look forward to talking about the evidence and the 51 heroin overdoses that occurred in the City of Melbourne, second only to the City of Yarra. We know and we listen to the expert advice that supervised injecting rooms need to be close to where the drug use is the most prevalent in order to be effective—

Ms Staley interjected.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Ripon! I repeat: I ask you to cease interjections.

Ms ADDISON: Thank you very much, Deputy Speaker, and I cannot wait to continue. As we know, the City of Melbourne is the location where a supervised injecting room would do the most good. Based not only on the panel’s recommendation but on international evidence, patterns of overdose-related deaths and emergency services—

Ms Staley interjected.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Member for Ripon, you are warned.

Ms ADDISON: That is why in the 2020–21 state budget we included $40.1 million over two years to support the response to the independent review of the trial and to establish a second supervised injecting room in the City of Melbourne. This funding will support the provision of comprehensive wraparound services to support client recovery at both locations—in the City of Yarra and the City of Melbourne.

Ms Staley interjected.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Ripon will leave the chamber for the period of half an hour.

Member for Ripon withdrew from chamber.

Ms ADDISON: I would really like to thank the Leader— (Time expired)


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