08 March 2023

RACGP welcomes Medically Supervised Injecting Room announcement

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed the Victorian Government’s decision to make the Medically Supervised Injecting Room (MISR) in North Richmond an ongoing fixture.

It comes following the Government today introducing legislation to establish the health service as an ongoing service. Immediate measures will also be taken to further boost safety and amenity in the local precinct and boost supports for people using the facility. The RACGP has previously spoken out on the importance of approaching alcohol and other drugs policy from a health-based perspective and ending the pointless “war on drugs”.

RACGP President Dr Nicole Higgins welcomed the announcement.

“This decision will save lives,” she said.

“I applaud the Victorian Government’s courage and conviction in standing firm and making this decision. Alcohol and other drug use, including intravenous opioid drug use, must be seen through a health lens. We will get nowhere by declaring a ‘war on drugs,’ throwing the book at people, and pretending that a punitive approach will deter drug use. It gets us nowhere fast, instead we need to think differently and look at what does work.

“The evidence is already in – medically supervised injecting facilities save lives. In Victoria, the trial has successfully managed almost 6,000 overdoses and saved 63 lives. It is also taking pressure off already over-burdened hospitals and reducing ambulance call outs.

“It’s the same story up Sydney. Experts examining the Kings Cross site found that from the time the facility started until the end of April last year, it recorded a total of 1,232,951 injections without any fatalities. Almost 11,000 overdoses have been managed successfully, and more than 20,000 referrals to health and social services made. Each one of those referrals is an opportunity to turn someone’s life around – an opportunity that would have been lost if the person was using drugs away from the site.

“For anyone who is injecting drugs I encourage you to reach out and get help. Remember, your GP is always there to talk to and booking a consultation can be the first step to addressing your substance use and improving your health and wellbeing. Remember, we are not there to judge; we are here to help.”

RACGP Victoria Chair Dr Anita Munoz also welcomed the Victorian Government’s decision.

“This is sound decision based on strong results,” she said.

“It’s particularly positive news that there is a strong focus on supporting people using the Medically Supervised Injecting Room. The permanent committee that will include the Department of Health, Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria and the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing including Homes Victoria, has such a vital role to play.

“I also welcome the fact that the Government will carefully consider the recommendations of the independent review conducted by John Ryan. We must always consider how to best enhance this service and ensure that all affected parties have their views listened to. I hope now that the Victorian Government follows the lead of Queensland and the ACT and extends its commitment to harm minimisation via pill testing, another move that would save many lives.”

RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine Chair Dr Hester Wilson also backed the changes and called on other states and territories to follow suit.

“Victoria and my home state of New South Wales are leading the way and I urge other jurisdictions to do the same,” she said.

“I worked as the acting medical director at the Kings Cross site more than a decade ago and I can tell you that it’s a system that works. So, it’s fantastic news that the Victorian Government is making its Medically Supervised Injecting Room an ongoing service. It’s not just a compassionate and humane model, it’s a successful model and one that I hope other Premiers and Chief Ministers adopt right around Australia.

“Whether we like it or not, drug use does happen. So, we have a choice in front of us – we can either stick our heads in the sand, say ‘drugs are bad’ and pretend the situation will magically resolve itself, or we can focus on what actually works and saves lives. Many of the people using this service feel as though they are on the margins of society, they have experienced trauma and often have had infrequent or negligible contact with the healthcare system or social supports. When they visit this service, they come into contact with people opening up their arms and offering to help; it’s the best way to reach them and get them on the right trajectory free of stigma and shame.

“You can’t treat someone who has died from overdose. So, once again, well done to the Victorian Government for ignoring shrill and judgmental critics and doing the right thing. This is another step forward in ending the futile ‘war on drugs’ and helping people who have a health problem. At the end of the day, every person’s life matters.”

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