Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has said he changed his mind about supporting a safe injecting room trial in inner Melbourne because a jump in the number of overdoses showed the current approach was failing.
The Government has confirmed it will hold a two-year trial a centre at the heroin hotspot North Richmond under a bold plan that includes tougher penalties for drug traffickers.
The medically supervised service will be run at North Richmond Community Health, which is already handing out a million syringes every month.
Thirty-four people have died from heroin overdoses in a four block area near Victoria St in one 12-month period, which prompted the state coroner to call for a trial earlier this year.
“There can be no rehabilitation if you are dead. If you are lying in a laneway in a gutter with a syringe that you got through the needle and syringe exchange program just here, there can be no pathway to treatment for you,” Mr Andrews said.
“If, however, you can be supervised, if you can get, in the event you need, the urgent health care that saves lives… that surely, on any measure, is a better outcome than seeing that death toll go up and up.”
Harsher sentencing for heroin trafficking
Under the trial, the health centre on Lennox St will be exclusively written into legislation to give it legal amnesty.
Illegal drugs will not be provided at the address and only adults can use the site.
New legislation will need to be introduced to Parliament but the Government has enough support from the Upper House crossbench.
There will also be provision to extend the trial for three years.
The trial is part of a $87 million drug rehabilitation plan, which includes 100 more residential rehabilitation beds to tackle soaring ice and heroin use.
Mr Andrews has for a long time resisted calls for an injecting room, and has recently met with families who have lost loved ones to heroin.
Today conceded it was a change in policy, but said with skyrocketing overdose action was needed.
“We have the highest heroin overdose death toll since 2000, circumstances are different,” he said.
“To stubbornly continue with a policy that’s just not working, then that’s the wrong thing to do when there is an alternative, one that can save lives.
“I think leadership is about being prepared to say a different way is worth trialling.”
As the Premier’s press conference wrapped up, paramedics were called to a suspected overdose just 50 metres from the centre.
There will also be changes to sentences for people trafficking commercial quantities of heroin, with the punishable quantity to drop from 250 grams to 50g.
The Premier acknowledged the lobbying and work of Reason Party MP Fiona Patten to convince him of the need, as well as local Labor MP Richard Wynne.
Ms Patten said she was thrilled for all involved and congratulated the Government for getting on board.
She hoped it was a move towards treating drugs as a health issue rather than a law and order matter.
ABC – 28th Oct