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Every religion in the world holds that life is sacred and that saving human life is a duty. A Jewish observation puts it well: “And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
Parents instinctively understand this truth: each of their children is irreplaceable. This remains true regardless of your religious faith, the colour of your skin, or where you were born.
Our entire health system is informed by the principle that those whose life can be saved deserve to be saved, irrespective of other considerations. As a society, we are prepared to pay for expensive drugs that will keep a person with a terminal disease alive for a few months more.
In our everyday secular world, we act out the sacredness of life.
Given this, it’s bewildering that our Parliament allows people to die from drug overdose when a solution is obvious. Just last year, there were 34 heroin-related deaths in the city of Yarra. These deaths were unnecessary and they were completely preventable.
The trial of a medically supervised injecting centre that enables health professionals to oversee drug injecting will prevent more Victorians from premature death.
This is not a moral issue.
Sydney’s medically supervised injection centre in Kings Cross is operated by the Uniting Church.
It’s not a law enforcement issue.
Responsibility for the operation of Sydney’s medically supervised injection centre is shared by the NSW Commissioner of Police and the Ministry for Health. Since opening in 2001, the staff in the Sydney centre have managed around 6,000 overdoses and not one life has been lost.
Yet in Victoria, men and women die on the streets within walking distance of Spring Street, while our politicians seem paralysed by indecision. This a matter of life and death.
With the tabling of the Inquiry into the Pilot Medically Supervised Injecting Centre Bill, every member of Victoria’s Parliament is confronted with irrefutable evidence. And therefore, can no longer deny the success of medically supervised injecting centres (MSICs) such as the one in Kings Cross, nor that Sydney’s MSIC represents a model for North Richmond.
Can anyone explain why, in Sydney, drug users can inject in a hygienic and much safer environment, surrounded by nurses, and protected from the worst consequences of drug overdose, while in Melbourne we leave people to inject in laneways and public toilets?
It seems perverse that in Victoria we go to great lengths to make sure people who inject drugs have access to clean needles, syringes and other equipment, so they can avoid contracting and passing on blood borne diseases, yet refuse to provide a space where they can use that equipment in the safest way, including emergency care should they overdose.
We cannot hide behind the fiction that people who inject drugs simply make “bad choices”.
Many of the people injecting in Richmond are marginalised people living in dire straits. Often, they’re battling a cruel mix of issues including mental illness, unemployment, poverty and homelessness. But they are not irredeemably lost souls.
People dependent on drugs would usually prefer to stop using them, but achieving a complete recovery can be a difficult and long-term process. In time, many will find their way to health services, then recover and resume a more normal life with the support of family, friends and health and other professionals. But to do this, they must first survive; and their survival must be our priority.
Expert opinion from the medical, health and drug treatment fields has recommended a trial of a medically supervised injection centre along the lines of the Kings Cross facility.
So too has the City of Yarra – the local council in whose municipality this appalling tragedy is taking place.
So too do many Richmond residents who have been traumatised by witnessing painful scenes of drug use and overdose outside their homes, in their streets and gardens. And who are perpetually on guard to protect their children from needle-stick injury.
It’s time for action from our political leaders. Surely parliamentarians’ first duty is to put an end to these needless and preventable deaths.
If the human tragedy isn’t a big enough cost, surely parliament could at least inform Victorian taxpayers of Sydney’s experience, including the financial savings that their supervised injection centre is delivering in New South Wales?
By preventing overdoses on the street, ambulance, police and fire services are being spared additional call outs. Similarly, the Kings Cross facility is reducing needle-stick injuries and, with reduced overdose deaths, preventing medical and coronial staff from having to conduct many autopsies and inquests.
In trialling a medically supervised injection centre, Victoria has little to lose and worlds to gain.