When an evidence informed sector is asked to ignore the facts.

**Breaking News! 30th October, 2017: YoDAA welcomes Premier Daniel Andrews unexpected announcment that Victoria will trial a safe drug-injecting room in Richmond. Sign up to YoDAA e-newsletter for updates and sector news.**

Are safe injecting facilities effective? A simple enough question but one that has been eluding Victorian policy makers and politicians in the debate over whether to give the go ahead to a 6 month trial facility in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond.

The answer, collected from reviews of the worlds 90 facilities over the past 34 years is a resounding yes.

Here’s what every Youth Drug and Alcohol Worker needs to know about safe injecting facilities, including the controversial facility already operating in Australia.

What are Safe Injecting Facilities?

Safe injecting facilities, also called "drug consumption rooms", "injecting rooms" (and depending on the tone of the article) “Shooting galleries” are medical facilities staffed by nurses and social workers where people who are planning to inject are supplied with sterile equipment and a safe space to do so.

Kitted out with emergency equipment and lifesaving medications, safe injecting facilities are, most importantly, places where accidental overdoses can be reversed.  They also offer pathways into treatment and other health services for people who inject drugs.

The history of safe injecting facilities

Though sometimes characterised as a highly experimental, maverick response to the problem of drugs on the street, safe injecting rooms have a solid history of success in Europe, Canada and Australia. The first facility was opened in Switzerland in the early 80’s. Since then some 90 facilities worldwide have contributed to a remarkably strong body of evidence that argue safe injecting rooms reduce the risk of overdose, improve their health of people who inject and lessen the costs to society.

What we can learn from Sydney?

Sydney’s Medically Supervised Injecting Centre was opened as a pilot in Kings Cross in 2001. Its 10 year trial is well documented and after successfully managing more than 4,400 drug overdoses without a single fatality, in 2011 it was given the green light from both sides of politics, to continue indefinitely.

The 10 year review of the facility further demonstrated it had;

  • reduced the number of publicly discarded needles and syringes in the Kings Cross area by approximately half
  • decreased the number of ambulance call outs to Kings Cross by 80%
  • generated more than 9500 referrals to health and social welfare services.

Following the opening of the centre, the Australian Bureau of statistics showed no increase in crime in the surrounding area for 3 years running.

One vocal supporter of the facility, Former Liberal Premier Jeff Kennet, has come out praising the makeover that Kings Cross has experienced since the facility opened and the benefit to marginalised members of our society who experience both substance dependence and mental illness.

The Richmond Proposal

In 2011 the Australian Medical Association (AMA) with the support of Yarra Council and the Yarra Drug and Health Forum proposed a 6 month pilot facility in the inner city suburb of Richmond, long considered one of Victoria hotspots for public drug trading and use.

Despite overwhelming evidence internationally and locally in favour of such a proposal, this week, Victoria’s new state government reiterated their pre-election position. Evidence and experts may support a safe injecting facility but the Victorian Government (like the state government before it) would not.

It seems an inconsistent stance from a government that only last week was throwing its support behind harm minimisation measures to address problematic amphetamine use.

Interestingly the community is not united in opposing the facility. If the government’s position is based solely on community feedback and values then hopefully it is only a matter of time before a rethink is called for.

Worldwide there has never been a fatality in a safe injecting facility. Sydney’s center averages 9 lives saved per week

What does this mean for our practice?

When policy is at odds with evidence based practice, the challenge for every youth AOD worker to practice in a way that we know works but that is also in keeping with the law.

Where there is a discrepancy between what the evidence says and what policy’s will allow, it is our role to help create a climate where policy can eventually budge.

 YoDAA will be following the campaign for Victoria’s safe injecting room and highlighting efforts to bring about more evidence informed policy. We would love to hear you stories. Email advice@yodaa.org.au

Image: Counselling room in the aftercare area of Sydney’s Medically Supervised Safe Injecting Center. Reproduced with kind permission.