GET drugs off the streets.
That's the message from longtime advocates of safe injecting facilities, who are pushing for their introduction in Victoria before the November state election.
A Burnet Institute report commissioned by the Yarra Drug and Health Forum - which runs a mobile needle and syringe exchange - has identified the need for an injecting facility to manage the risk of fatal overdoses in public places, reduce discarded injecting equipment and prevent disease.
The research released on Tuesday looked at examples from 76 facilities - including Australia's only clinic in Kings Cross in Sydney - and others operating overseas.
It identified mobile facilities as potentially suitable for Melbourne to provide access to drug markets across metropolitan areas.peThe report found mobile facilities may be more widely accepted in Melbourne compared with a fixed location, to avoid drug users congregating in a particular area.
Since its inception in 2001, Sydney's supervised heroin injecting room has aided over 500,000 injections without a fatality.
But Premier John Brumby said on Tuesday the Labor government would not change its firm position.
"We looked at this issue in some depth some years ago but I think the evidence now suggests that this is not the right way to go and we've got no plans to change our policy," he said.
Yarra Drug and Health Forum executive officer Joe Morris says drug injecting spaces should be taken off the streets to improve the amenity of public spaces and support drug users.
Mr Morris said community concern around public drug injecting in high-rise public housing estates in suburbs that include Collingwood, Richmond and Fitzroy had prompted calls for the establishment of safe injecting facilities.
"(The community) know that law enforcement is not going to stop people injecting ... so they say 'well why don't the government provide a place where people can do this away from the estate, away from our families'," he told the report launch.
Professor David Penington, former chairman of the Victorian Premier's Drug Advisory Council in the 1990s, says community education is the key to tackling drug injecting as a health issue, rather than a law enforcement problem.
But he said it was "politically not desirable" for a party to back an issue which aroused significant public opposition.
"If we can in fact mobilise public opinion through debate then I think politicians will want to look at it," he said.
"But they won't want to look at it when they feel that they will be placed at risk in popularity voting at the next election.
"If Sydney can do it, why can't we?"
The Kings Cross supervised room opened in May 2001 after NSW Drug Summit recommendations urged the government not to veto a trial for safe injecting facilities in the state.
It has helped 11,000 individuals inject heroin and has dealt with 3500 overdoses, but has not lost a life.
An increase in heroin use in Australia, in which overdose death rates rose to three a day in 1999, sparked calls to start the centre.
Although figures suggest the program has caused a decrease in crime in the Kings Cross area, critics say a lack of the drug's availability is also a factor.
An independent review of the centre to decide whether its operating licence should be extended beyond October 2011 will be released to the NSW government in July.
The report by consultant KPMG, at a cost of $240,000, is the fourth report focused on whether the centre is achieving its aims, but the first to be completed outside of NSW Health.
June 22, 2010
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