Injecting rooms in Melbourne?

30 April 2012

Written by: Anne Nielsen

Used syringes and needles may be the first things Melbournians encounter on their daily walk to their place of work. Drug users are pressured down in to the narrow streets and back alleys of the city, trying to find a quiet undisturbed place to get their fix – hiding away from the public and the police.

And there they are – all alone and in the dirt, playing with their lives through the use of a syringe. Drug use is not a new phenomenon, and we all acknowledge it to be a very real, yet sad, part of our society. But, instead of just stepping over the used needles, shouldn’t we consider the consequences that these back alley actions may have?

The best ways to handle drug use have been widely discussed throughout the world, and each nation has different legislations and laws involving the trafficking and use of drugs. Furthermore, different methods have been put in action to get drugs off the streets.

In Denmark the government recently passed a law legalizing injecting rooms in all regions of the country. With this legislation, all major cities will offer injecting rooms for local users, and thereby provide a clean and safe environment for their drug use.

With a staff of authorised nurses, the aim of these rooms is to lower the number of overdoses on the streets and increase the drug user’s awareness by providing them with necessary information and guidance. Furthermore, the rooms would take needles and syringes out of the cityscape, making it safer for children to run around.

Countries like Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland have previously had good experiences with legal injecting rooms, and in Australia a trial period has recently legalised a medically supervised injecting centre in Sydney.

In Sydney, the injecting centre has noted many successes. Among the claimed improvements are: a halving of discarded syringes, significant reduction in ambulance call-outs, no deaths from overdoses at the centre, a reduction in public injecting, and increased public support over time, with initial fears of a honey-pot effect proving groundless.

So, should Melbourne follow in Sydney’s footsteps and create a supervised injecting centre? Critics say that injecting rooms legitimise a deadly habit, and that the rooms or centers will normalise the intake of drugs. But, isn’t drug use already viewed as a normal part of the big cities?

I believe that these rooms can provide both the drug users and the public in the cities with-needed safety. The aim of the rooms is not to solve the misuse of drugs. They acknowledge that there is a problem, and while governments around the world discuss ways to eradicate drug use, they try to increase control – To move the users from the narrow streets of the city into a clean room with a nurse and needed information.

The Age wrote of the matter, when the Victorian government dismissed a proposal for a medically supervised injecting room in one of Melbourne’s inner-city suburbs last year. Despite the support of many local politicians, the state government was strongly opposed to the plan, believing that a solution was to be found in improved law enforcement and education.

These areas may keep many from going down this path, but what about the people who already took the wrong turn? A user of the centre in Sydney told The Age: ‘They give us clean needles and teach us safe ways to inject. They talk to us like people, not junkies, tell us where we can get help for other stuff. If I hadn’t gone there, I’d be dead on the streets, I know I would.’

Despite the fact that this is a horrible problem that has originated with people taking their first fix themselves, we must remember that these are sons or daughters, sisters or brothers, and maybe, just maybe, these facilities can provide them with some safety and guidance. Crucial areas that might just save a loved one at some point.


Anne Nielsen is third-year Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University. She is currently on exchange from Aarhus University, Denmark, and is upstart’s deputy-editor. You can follow her on Twitter @AnneRyvang.