A drug-injecting facility will remain indefinitely after a controversial trial was deemed a runaway success, despite parents at a nearby school still furious about the location.
The Andrews government opened the supervised injection room in North Richmond, Melbourne’s east, in June 2018 as part of a two-year trial, which has been extended until mid-2023.
On Tuesday, legislation will be introduced in state parliament to make the facility a permanent service after an evaluation, chaired by public health researcher John Ryan, found it managed nearly 6,000 overdoses and saved 63 lives.
There have been 50 heroin-related deaths in the municipal area in the 42 months since the facility opened, up from 68 deaths in the previous 42 months.
Prime Minister Daniel Andrews said the facility, which recorded 350,000 visits between June 2018 and September 2022, has changed and saved lives.
Prime Minister Dan Andrews (pictured) said the chamber had already saved dozens of lives
“We’re not chasing a popular outcome here,” he said.
“I will never forget the day we announced this trial. There was a woman who overdosed less than 50 meters from the press conference.’
The government will consider all 10 recommendations from the review, including expanding support for users and addressing security and amenities.
But it has ruled out a suggestion to eligibility for peer and partner injecting, which would allow pregnant women to inject, and to remove other barriers, including for those under court order.
The center has become a contentious issue for residents, as acknowledged by the 25-page review.
Some people told the panel the area was quieter without “constant code blues, dead bodies on the asphalt and kids watching injections,” but others said drug use remains very visible.
“I take my daughter to school, witness fights, brutal drug deals, drug use, drug addicted people,” said one community member.
The safe injection room (pictured) is located in North Richmond and has divided the community
Judy Ryan, who led a residents’ campaign to furnish the injection room, said it was common to find drug addicts in alleyways, carports and gardens before the center opened.
“It was like living in a war zone. It was stressful and unacceptable,” she said.
She acknowledged that some residents would be dissatisfied with the facility staying, but said people needed to understand that it wasn’t easy to stop using drugs.
Local resident Sharon Neven told Sunrise on Tuesday that locals had “lived for years with the disaster of an ice and heroin injection facility next to the school” and they did not want the site to become permanent.
“School kids see dead bodies, see people injecting openly, people naked and running away who are practically insane after years and years of drug use,” Ms Neven said.
“Most people don’t want to sit in a clinical room with people watching them inject, so they go in and get the needles and paraphernalia and the syringe on our streets and our parks and our driveways.
“If there’s a dead body on the way to school, how do you call it safe to go to school, how do you call it safe to have an ice and heroin injection room next to an elementary school?”
Resident Sharon Neven (pictured) said ‘school kids see dead bodies, see people injecting openly, people naked and running away who are practically insane after years and years of drug use’
Ms Neven said she wasn’t against the room, said they were ‘not allowed to be next to each other’.
She added, “Why are drug users the only ones who matter here?”
A second facility has been earmarked for Melbourne’s CBD as the government awaits a final report on its location.
Andrews confirmed that the report, led by former police commissioner Ken Lay, will be handed over to the government by mid-year.
But he said no location for a second location would be perfect.
“You have to find a location that works and that’s a real challenge,” he said.
The Greens have welcomed the move to make North Richmond permanent, but criticized the government for not following through on the recommendation to expand suitability.
“We would like everyone who uses injecting drugs to be supported with the kind of safety and services that the medically supervised injection room provides,” said Gabrielle de Vietri of Richmond.
The North Richmond location, which is close to an elementary school, will remain the same, but the provider of the service may change as part of a tendering process.
Fury as a second safe injection room opens in Melbourne as both parents and locals want the current facility relocated as it is on the doorstep of a primary school
Opposition spokeswoman Emma Kealy said the government had not listened to residents’ concerns.
“Kids should never have to walk to school and walk past a dead body, or someone who just got an injection, or see sexual acts on their school grounds,” she said.
In December, a man was found dead of a suspected overdose just meters from the ‘safe’ injection center, sparking outrage in the community.
In October, paramedics were called to resuscitate a man believed to have overdosed on heroin in a multi-story parking garage near the injection room, which locals refer to as a drug den.
Safe injection rooms have been trialled in the area for five years (pictured: A group of people taking drugs in a small park just off a popular shopping street in North Melbourne in 2020)