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Safe injecting room will save lives, reduce crime, say criminal lawyers

Safe injecting room will save lives, reduce crime, say criminal lawyers

By Karin Derkley

Drugs 

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The safe injecting room to be established by the Victorian State Government will save lives and play an important role in reducing the impact of drug-related crime on the community, say lawyers from LIV’s criminal law section.

A two-year trial of a medically supervised service will be run at North Richmond Community Health, which already runs a needle exchange program. The government decided to set up the program after a recommendation by the Victorian Coroner and strong lobbying by Reason Party MP Fiona Patten and others.

Tania Wolff, whose practice First Step Legal works within the not-for-profit health, mental health and addiction service First Step, says it is clear from the facility in Sydney’s Kings Cross and other examples from overseas that harm minimisation is a much more effective way of dealing with drug abuse than criminalisation.

“Drug addiction is a health issue not a criminal issue, and has to be dealt with as such,” she says. In Victoria we are losing more people to overdoses than to our road toll, she pointed out. “Clearly the law and order response is not doing a great job of dealing with substance abuse.”

“We need to look at cleverer ways of handling this kind of thing – and the safe injecting room is an important step in the right direction.”

Melinda Walker, co-chair of the LIV’s Criminal Law Section, says that the safe injecting room will give people struggling with addiction the resources and support to link in to appropriate rehabilitation services. The injecting rooms will be staffed by health and social work professionals who can provide a first point of contact for persons who use drugs, giving them direct access to information and referral.   

“The more people are assisted to combat their addiction via the option to access services, the greater the reduction in the need for crime to fund those addictions,” Ms Walker says. “This initiative therefore will reduce the impact of drugs in our community and the system as a whole, including by reducing the need for jails and police resources.”

The legislation to establish the safe injecting facility is yet to pass through Parliament, and Liberals and Nationals MP have said they won’t support it. But the Government has enough support from the Upper House crossbench, and the police union, firefighters and paramedics have all said they either support the facility or won't oppose it.

The trial will be overseen by an expert panel chaired by former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett.

 


Disclaimer: Views expressed by commentators are not necessarily endorsed by the Law Institute of Victoria Ltd (LIV). No responsibility is accepted by the LIV for the accuracy of information contained in the comments and the LIV expressly disclaims any liability for, with respect to or arising from any such views.

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