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Legislative Council
Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Pilot Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2017

08 February 2017
Second reading


Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

In December of last year I sat through a coronial inquest. Her name was suppressed, but the deceased was a young mother, 34 years of age. She overdosed in a fast-food restaurant toilet in North Richmond, where she was found with a needle and a spoon lying beside her. We heard that she had tried to overcome her addiction, but traumatic events, including a long history of family violence, had set her back.

At lunchtime, that Sunday, there sadly ended her decade-long battle with heroin. She was not the only one. There were 172 heroin overdose deaths in Victoria in 2015. That is more than three deaths per week.

As I sat and watched in the Coroners Court, the inquest heard that deaths from heroin overdose had reached levels not seen since the 1990s and that North Richmond was the epicentre of the problem. Of those 172 deaths, 34 occurred in, or could be linked to, one small block in North Richmond, a block of around 300 square metres.

That block is Melbourne's heroin equivalent of Sydney's Kings Cross. Not coincidently, Kings Cross is the site of Australia's only licensed medically supervised injecting centre.

The Sydney medically supervised injecting centre opened as a pilot in 2001. Ultimately, in 2011, it was given the green light by both sides of politics to continue indefinitely. Ten years of data and reviews demonstrated it had:

generated more than 9500 referrals to health and social welfare services;

decreased ambulance call-outs to Kings Cross by 80 per cent;

halved the number of publicly discarded syringes in the area;

successfully managed more than 4400 drug overdoses within the centre, without a single fatality;

did not increase crime in the surrounding areas and had no 'honey pot' effect.

Most importantly, it saved lives, and continues to do so. Over 4000 overdoses successfully managed within the injecting centre is over 4000 potential community overdose deaths prevented and over 4000 less ambulance attendances.

This bill is modelled closely on the legislation that introduced the Kings Cross centre in NSW. It is modelled on that NSW legislation, because it has been a huge success and has comprehensively achieved its stated goals.

The bill that I introduce today is to establish an 18-month trial of a medically supervised injecting centre here in Victoria. The trial will test whether the same remarkable success can be achieved here. And based on the success in Sydney and in 90-plus other locations around the world, I am convinced that it will.

The bill amends the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 by inserting new part VIAB. This part enables the licensing and operation of a medically supervised injecting centre for a trial period of 18 months. Comprehensive data will be collected to permit a detailed review of the trial, which will be tabled in both houses of Parliament.

The centre will be overseen by a new responsible authority consisting of the secretary of the department of health and the chief commissioner of Victoria Police. This mirrors the structure of the responsible authority in NSW. It is intended that the powers of the responsible authority be exercised jointly by the secretary and Chief Commissioner of Police, or their delegates.

The objects of the bill, which we expect that trial will achieve, are:

to reduce the number of deaths from drug overdoses;

to provide a gateway to health and social assistance for clients of the licensed injecting centre, including drug treatment, health care and counselling;

to reduce drug overdose-related ambulance attendances;

to reduce the number of discarded needles and syringes and the incidence of drug injecting in public places;

to improve the amenity of its neighbourhood for residents and traders; and

to assist in reducing the spread of bloodborne disease, including but not limited to HIV or hepatitis C.

We also expect that the centre will improve workplace safety for paramedics and first responders by decreasing the risks of violence and the transmission of disease. As the Ambulance Employees Australia Victoria has stated publicly, safe injecting rooms will reduce assaults on ambos and free up crews.

Ambulances in metropolitan Melbourne attend more than 2200 heroin overdoses annually, at an estimated cost of more than $2.3 million. This bill will reduce that pressure on our ambulance service.

It is a requirement that the centre be under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner at all times. The centre must also facilitate access or referral to a range of primary healthcare, drug treatment and other services. In this way, the centre will act as a gateway to health and social assistance for clients of the facility, and work to address the factors that underpin addiction, for this difficult-to-reach cohort.

With respect to the criminal liability of users of the centre, the bill provides that it is not an offence to possess or use a small quantity of a drug of dependence within the centre. It remains an offence to possess a drug of dependence for the purposes of supply, or to possess a drug of dependence in a quantity that is greater than a small quantity.

This bill does not exempt a user of the facility from any other conditions that they may be subject to that prohibit their use of a drug of dependence — such as the condition of a sentencing order, a condition of bail, or a condition of parole.

It remains an offence to possess a drug of dependence outside of the facility. The successful operation of the centre is therefore contingent on the appropriate exercise of police discretion. It is intended that Victoria Police formulate a written policy and/or guidelines to address the exercise of police discretion in relation to users of the medically supervised injecting centre. Similar principles already apply around needle exchange facilities.

The bill also refers to exemptions from criminal and civil liability for management and staff of the facility.

The bill requires the formulation of suitable regulations and internal management protocols for the medically supervised injecting centre and exempts it from planning permit requirements.

As the epicentre of Melbourne's heroin problems, it is intended that the medically supervised injecting centre be sited in North Richmond. Demos Krouskos, the chief executive of North Richmond Community Health, stated when he addressed the coroner: his service is the ideal model in which to create a supervised heroin injecting room and, based near the large public housing towers in Lennox Street, already offers many health services, including a needle exchange program. Expanding that site will provide space for the injecting facility as well as accompanying services.

Of the 60-odd submissions that were made to the coroner in December by experts, traders and residents, none were opposed to a medically supervised injecting centre. Yarra council and most residents, traders and businesses in the area are calling for the trial. It has the support of the Australian Medical Association, the Ambulance Employees Association and many others.

This trial will save lives, reduce ambulance call-outs, reduce discarded syringes and provide a gateway to drug treatment and counselling.

I commend the bill to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Ms PULFORD (Minister for Agriculture).

Debate adjourned until Wednesday, 22 February.