The claim that an injecting room in Richmond, Victoria will save the lives of overdosing heroin users in Richmond does not appear to be backed by sound evidence, says the Australian Christian Lobby submission to a parliamentary committee considering drug policy.

The Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee is considering the effectiveness of laws, procedures and regulations relating to illicit and synthetic drugs and the misuse of prescription medication in minimising drug-related harm.

ACL’s submission to the inquiry focused on the injecting room proposed for Richmond by Sex Party MLC Fiona Patten.

Despite the Labor Party making an election commitment to reject injecting rooms during the 2014 election, this inquiry has been established and the parliamentary committee has been asked to report by March 2018.

In response to an ACL policy questionnaire, Labor said at election time:

We do not support the introduction of supervised injecting rooms. Harm minimisation and evidence-based responses to drug use like needle and syringe programs, pharmacotherapies as well as treatment and support services are our focus.

Police Minister Lisa Neville and Premier Daniel Andrews have publicly rejected the project, but confusingly, the Andrews government backed this parliamentary inquiry into how an injecting room in Richmond could work.

This mixed signal makes it imperative that the Government is held to account on its pre-election commitment to reject an injecting gallery.

The establishment of an injecting room in Richmond would be a highly irresponsible move that sends a flawed message that injecting heroin can be safe.

The argument that an injecting room in Richmond will save the lives of those currently overdosing in Richmond is not backed by sound evidence.

Evidence from Drug Free Australia points to the overdose rate at the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC), Australia’s only legal injecting room in Kings Cross, being 36 times higher than on the streets of that suburb.

Media coverage has consistently focused on MSIC claims that considers each intervention in an overdose represents a life saved.  

This simplistic approach of making a direct equation between the number of interventions in the clinic and the number of lives saved by the existence of the clinic along with the alarming higher rate of overdose means that talking about what might have happened is speculative.

The DFA analysis shows that the astronomically high rates of overdose in the Kings Cross MSIC are more likely to reflect higher risk taking behavior within the injecting rooms than would occur elsewhere. This means that rates of intervention in a clinic setting cannot be used as a sound measure to reveal the number of lives saved had the clinic not existed where those taking drugs are more careful.

The ACL believes we should be doing all we can to help drug users overcome the addiction, rather than supporting their ongoing addiction.

The statistical analysis by DFA clearly shows the case has not been made for another injecting room in Australia. The resources taken up by such a social experiment would be better spent on measures that reduce the number of people using drugs and help them to rehabilitate rather than enable them to continue their habit.

You can read ACL’s submission here.