Yarra Council fights on for North Richmond safe-injection room

Mural in Little Collins Street, Abbotsford, displays the names of 34 people who have died from drug overdoses in North Richmond. Picture: Natasha Ockenden

By NATASHA OCKENDEN, EMILY WALKER and CHARLOTTE MORTON 

The Yarra City Council is putting increasing pressure on the State Government to trial a safe drug injection room in North Richmond.

The council is refusing to take no for an answer, proposing a motion that will be presented to the Municipal Association of Victoria’s state council on October 20.

This follows the Andrews Government’s decision to reject an 18-month trial of a medically supervised injecting room near Victoria St.

“A medically supervised injecting facility in Richmond is overwhelmingly supported by health experts, emergency services, the Victorian Coroner, the City of Yarra, as well as many local residents and traders; yet the State Government is refusing to endorse a trial,’’ the motion says, according to a report in the Herald Sun

Yarra City Council mayor Amanda Stone said an injection room was the solution to the growing drug problem in the area.

Mayor of Yarra City Council Amanda Stone. Picture: Emily Walker

“We know about the problems in Victoria St. They are entrenched. They are longstanding, despite huge efforts made by police, law enforcement and streetscape improvements,” Cr Stone said.

“We know that there are some missing pieces in solving this problem, and one of those is a supervised injecting facility.”

In 2015, there were 172 heroin overdose deaths in Victoria, 34 of which occurred in North Richmond. The area has had the highest rate of overdose deaths from the drug in the state for the past seven years.

Loretta Gabriel, mother of Sam O’Donnell, who died of a heroin overdose last year, is supporting the call for a safe injecting facility.

Mr O’Donnell, 27, was found dead near Little Lithgow St in North Richmond on August 11 in 2016.

“He was a human being who died alone in that filthy alley,” Ms Gabriel said at a March to Save Lives rally in North Richmond.

“I don’t want any more Victorian families to suffer what my family has had to endure.”

The family of Sam O’Donnell speak at the March to Save Lives rally. Picture: Charlotte Morton

In his report into the death of Mr O’Donnell, Coroner Gregory McNamara called for a safe injecting facility in Victoria, making him the third coroner to do so this year.

Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation president Alex Wodak said the area urgently needed a safe drug injection room.

“It’s a no brainer! It is ridiculous that it is taking so long for us to consider,” he said.

Dr Wodak said a drug injecting room had been tried in Sydney, and “it clearly saves lives”.

“It’s been 16 years since the opening of the first medically supervised injection room in Kings Cross in 2001, and its success is undeniable.”

At the Richmond mural: Picture Nathasha Ockenden

A report by Coroner Jacqui Hawkins said the safe injecting centre in Sydney had managed more than 4400 drug overdoses with no fatalities since its founding.

An evaluation of the Kings Cross centre also found the number of ambulance callouts to the area had decreased by 80 per cent since it opened.

Alcohol and Drug Foundation national policy manager Geoff Munro said Victoria should follow the lead of the Sydney centre.

“We don’t understand why there are no injection rooms in Victoria,” Mr Munro said.

“There are 34 people dying in Richmond a year and they could be saved.”