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04 May 2023, 15:11
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan):

I rise to speak to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2023. Harm minimisation is a pillar of the Legalise Cannabis Victoria program, so it gives me great pleasure to rise in support of this bill that will establish the medically supervised injecting room in North Richmond as a permanent service.

I visited the centre some months ago, and as I have said in this chamber before, you can only appreciate the centre’s true worth when you see it in action. As we have already heard, it has successfully managed over 6000 overdoses and has been quantified as saving the lives of 63 Victorians – 63 sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, friends or family who would not otherwise be with us today.

That is truly important. It is saving lives and reducing demand on ambulances and first responders, but it is doing so much more. The centre’s success in transitioning patients from heroin to long-acting buprenorphine is hugely significant and so too is their remarkable success rate in treating hepatitis C because of their ability to complete diagnostic pathology on the site immediately and then treat on the same day. In fact the centre is the largest treater of hepatitis C in Victoria.

As part of the recent international harm reduction conference held here in Melbourne, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark visited the centre, noting that it was the busiest overdose prevention centre in the world. Critics time and again fail to acknowledge that the centre is sited in the suburb that was the heart of Victoria’s heroin trade for decades and in the specific area with the greatest loss of life to heroin overdoses.

Its location is a response to the drug trade, not a cause of it, and anyone who asserts the opposite is either poorly informed or disingenuous.

It is a vital facility, and I hope that we are legislating for more soon. In relation to the amendments that are before the house, I make these comments. Consistent with the findings of the Ryan and Hamilton reviews, the centre should allow under 18-year-olds, pregnant women and people on court orders or parole, as well as partner injecting. It would be naive to think that refusing entry to these cohorts will stop them injecting. Rather, they will inject in more dangerous circumstances where they are more likely to do harm to themselves or their unborn children and where there are not the wrap-around supports to help transition them away from heroin use.

Additionally, it is also discriminatory to deny some members of our community access to this life-saving centre. We also believe that there should be more safe injecting rooms, and we should plan for this in anticipation of the deadly scourge of fentanyl which will soon be reaching our shores. To that end, the Greens amendment has our support. We think that hydromorphone can be hugely important as an intervention to break the nexus between heroin addiction and crime and to replace what for some can be a chaotic lifestyle focused on trying to score with some structure, time and space to seek housing or medical interventions, for example.

Hydromorphone has been found to be a very effective opioid replacement therapy for people for whom methadone and Suboxone have not worked. This will be a critical ongoing element to our support for this bill.

We too will move amendments for the purpose of renaming the medically supervised injecting room to the overdose prevention and recovery centre. It is a concept supported by the centre itself and an extensive list of stakeholders, including the Health and Community Services Union, the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, Harm Reduction Australia, Harm Reduction Victoria, the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Victoria Street Drug Solutions and a range of others.

It goes to reducing stigma associated with injecting drug use, better reflects its actual purpose and is reflective of best practice globally. The centre is so much more than an injecting space, and its name should reflect that. It includes a dental service; mental health services; opioid replacement therapy, including long-acting buprenorphine; general practice health; homeless services; legal services; hep C treatment; vaccinations and more. Now might be a good opportunity to circulate the amendments we are proposing.

**Amendments circulated pursuant to standing orders**

David ETTERSHANK: With that done, I congratulate the North Richmond Community Health centre for the services they have provided, and on behalf of Legalise Cannabis Victoria I commend the bill to the house.


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