Last October, the Victorian Government announced that a medically supervised injecting centre (MSIC) has been approved for trial this year. The MSIC will be located in a refurbished space at the North Richmond Community Health building, for a trial period of two years. There has been plenty of back and forth on this proposed trial for years, so, here is everything you need to know about Melbourne’s first MSIC.
What is the issue?
The North Richmond and Abbottsford area has had a major drug abuse problem for many years. The issue of drug taking and distributing in the area has become such a big issue for the community, that locals have protested and campaigned for the trial of a MSIC. They hope the introduction of a MSIC will reduce harm and fatalities in the neighbourhood. “It’s a key heroine distribution centre, people come there from all over the state,” said local Judy Ryan.
This Melbourne neighbourhood is prone to drug use and distribution due to its central location. North Richmond is home to 8 train lines, 2 tram lines and a multitude of buses. Public transport availability means that illicit drugs can easily be bought, sold and used with easy escapes via the many modes of transport available.
The design of the neighbourhood plays a critical role in why this part of Melbourne gets caught up in drugs. The Victoria Street vicinity contains many short, tucked away laneways behind busy shopping strips, which makes it easy for people to disappear. “The busy shopping strip is open all hours of the day, so people deal illicit drugs there and can easily get away. They use the laneways behind the strip to hide from people and take drugs,” said Ms Ryan.
Locals are burdened daily with the responsibility of looking out for drug abusers in danger within their neighbourhood. “We constantly hear ambulance sirens and very regularly see people lying on the back streets overdosed and have to call the ambulance to help them.” They often find their footpaths are filled with syringes and other dangerous items.
How can a MSIC help?
The installation of a trial MSIC will be used as a centre to assist and treat drug users. The MSIC will be a place where people who are determined to take drugs can do so safely. Drug users can visit the centre to inject illicit drugs under the supervision of medically trained staff. The purpose of a MSIC is to ensure safety, decrease overdoses and ultimately assist people to curb their drug dependency.
Currently the only active and open MSIC is in Sydney, located in notorious Kings Cross. The centre opened since 2001 and has been highly successful in reducing overdoses and allowing for a safer environment for people who are determined to inject drugs. “Injecting centres are safe, there has not been one death from overdose in the Kings Cross injecting centre,” said Ms Ryan.
According to a report, the Sydney MSIC has managed to reduce the number of ambulance call outs to Kings Cross by 80% since it opened. More than 15,300 people have registered to use the centre in the 17 years it has been operating.
What a MSIC is and it is not
“People have been taking drugs for thousands of years, what we want is harm reduction. It’s not about stopping people from taking drugs, it’s about saving lives,” said Ms Ryan.
A MSIC is not designed to reduce the number of people taking drugs. At the same time, MSIC are not designed to encourage more people to consider taking drugs. The MSIC has a clear purpose – to reduce harm to communities and to oneself after taking drugs.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation state the role of a MSIC is to reduce health problems that arise from drugs abuse, promote education, improve access to health, social and therapeutic services, reduce impact and trauma, reduce public nuisance associated with an open scene and reduce health costs associated with drugs.
What are the concerns?
A major concern for the MSIC is the location. The government approved plans for the centre to be built in the current North Richmond Community Health building. The issue with this is that a primary school, Richmond West Primary, is located next-door to the building. SBS reported that parents with children at the school are concerned that the MSIC will bring more drug users to the area. However, Richmond West Primary School principal, Jennifer Deeble, is continuing to strongly support the centre.
Another concern for Melbourne’s first MSIC is that the government have agreed to allow ice to be consumed under supervision in the centre. Previously the state government assured Victorians that it would ban ice from the centre but now have revealed there will be no restriction on what drug can and cannot be used.
The medically supervised injecting centre is due to open in June 2018 for a two-year trial.