Community activists are preparing to fight plans to create a $1.7 million fenced garden in front of a controversial injection room that they say will become a haven for drug users and dealers.
Melbourne has the highest levels of heroin, ketamine and fentanyl use of any Australian capital city, according to the latest wastewater data from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
Since its opening in 2018, the medically supervised drug injection room (MSIR) in Richmond’s inner-city eastern suburbs on Lennox St has sparked controversy, especially as it is located in in front of a primary school.
Defenders of the hall, including Premier Dan Andrews, point to review findings that the hall has “successfully managed almost 6,000 overdoses” since it opened in June 2018 and saved 63 lives, with no one died in the center.
However, some residents say virtually uncontrolled and open drug use has spread to the suburbs, leading to a threatening, unpredictable and sordid environment littered with drug paraphernalia.
Residents have denounced the proposal to build an enclosed garden outside Richmond’s medically supervised injection room (pictured from a scene in Richmond)
Sharon Neven, a 58-year-old Richmond resident, said building an enclosed garden in front of the injection room would only further invite drug dealers and users to congregate in an area known for injection and open-air traffic.
She shared with Daily Mail Australia photos of the area surrounding the drug injection room which she claims to have taken between July and September.
“It’s just going to provide a place for drug addicts to be able to deal, have sex and do all sorts of things behind a fence,” Ms Neven told Daily Mail Australia on Wednesday.
“This happens because we constantly complain about open injections that people do against the front door of the room, against the wall, on the side.
“So they thought instead of solving the problem, let’s hide them behind a big fence.”
“By putting up a fence, shelter and seating, it gives them a nice place to relax.”
The $1.7 million project will install a barrier around the injection room, located next to a building providing general and maternal health services.
“They just don’t understand, they don’t listen. People will consume outside and possibly overdose.
Ms Neven said a friend who lives opposite the injection room was “absolutely terrified” by the proposal.
“She already experiences horrible things on a daily basis – people injecting themselves or defecating near her front door,” Ms Neven said.
Ms Neven was also concerned that the fenced area would be a no-go zone for police, who already have a practice of not arresting people for drug possession in the immediate vicinity of the MSIR.
Ms Neven said there had been two recent stabbings in the Richmond area, including one fatality, “by known users” of the injection room.
The project has been approved by North Richmond Community Health, which runs both the MSIR as well as the general health and maternity centers in an adjacent building, Yarra City Council and the Victorian Government.
Residents say open injection and dealing of drugs is commonplace in Melbourne’s Richmond region.
Police apprehend subject in Richmond area, where residents say they fear ‘no-go zone’ around injection room
Construction of the new garden and a new diagonal path leading to the front door of the health clinics, replacing the path parallel to the injection room, will begin next February and is expected to be completed in June.
She said the new proposal would only encourage violent and aggressive drug users to stay all day and night.
“They see this wonderful vision and what we see is reality – she’s going to be scratched and upset,” she said.
Ms Neven also claimed residents were given no opportunity to comment on the proposal until it was disclosed in August.
A man lies on a footpath near the controversial Richmond injection room in Melbourne’s inner-city suburb.
“No one in the community has ever heard of it,” she said.despite North Richmond Community Health’s website stating there was “community and stakeholder consultation on the draft plans” in July and August 2022.
A spokesperson for the service told Daily Mail Australia on Thursday the proposal was a “response to community feedback which highlighted a desire to improve the land surrounding the facility and improve health outcomes and well-being of the community.
“Based on these initial commitments, our design team drafted plans that enhanced the landscaping and facilities surrounding NRCH buildings and increased our ability to provide care, support and services to clients and to the community in an improved outdoor space,” a spokesperson said.
A local says drug use has terrified people living near Richmond’s medically supervised injection room.
The spokesperson said the draft masterplan was presented for comment “as part of several community and stakeholder consultation activities in 2022” and that these “activities were widely publicized” and were “ well followed.”
Ms. Neven is organizing leaflets against the forbidden garden which will be distributed in the Richmond region.
A draft of the flyer says the “real reason for the wall” is to “hide the constant public injecting and high-risk behavior that NRCH is not trying to control.”
A draft of a leaflet aimed at Richmond residents urging them to oppose the fenced garden
The flyer urges residents to urgently email North Richmond Community Health to oppose the project.
An annual report from public health research group Penington Institute released last month shows 2,231 drug deaths were reported in Australia in 2021, or one death every four hours.
Of these, 1,675 were unintentional.
“The annual number of accidental deaths due to drugs has exceeded the 2014 road toll,” reads the 244-page report published on Sunday.
“Since then, the gap between the two has continued to widen.”
Seven in 10 accidental drug overdose deaths in 2021 were men and Indigenous Australians were almost four times more likely to die in these circumstances than non-Indigenous Australians.
The most common drug found in the body was opioids, contributing to 45.7% of overdose deaths in 2021.
Opioids, which are prescribed to relieve pain but are often linked to addiction and abuse, were found in 81% of deaths involving multiple substances.
Deaths linked to the synthetic opioid fentanyl were cited by the report as a major cause for concern after skyrocketing more than 800 percent since 2001.
Richmond resident Sharon Neven, who has lived in the area for 23 years, is fighting the injection room garden plan.
The global opioid crisis has coincided with an increase in overdose death rates across all Australian age groups over 30 over the past 20 years, particularly among those aged 50 to 59 (298%).
Although Australia’s population only increased by 33 percent during this period, accidental drug-related deaths increased by 71 percent.
The institute began producing an annual report on overdoses eight years ago to drive change, but its chief executive, John Ryan, said the response was grossly inadequate to the scale of the problem.
“Now is the time to address this national crisis,” he said.
“We already have the tools and know-how to reduce overdose deaths – we just need to do it by implementing evidence-based solutions, increasing access to treatment, and closing the gap in overdose death rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”
The number of drug overdose deaths from 2021 is likely to increase further as data is revised and finalized in the coming years.