June 09, 2020 | Federation Administration
The Federation of Community Legal Centres has welcomed both the recommendations put forward by the Medically Supervised Injecting Room Review Panel and the decisive action taken by the Victorian Government in accepting those recommendations.
The final report from the independent review panel found the Medically Supervised Injecting Room (MSIR) in North Richmond saw over 119,000 visits and saved at least 21 lives. Staff have also provided more than 13,000 health and social support interventions including legal support for issues like family violence, mental health and housing.
Director of Policy and Engagement at the Federation of Community Legal Centres, Shorna Moore, said this announcement would save lives and provide a gateway to health, legal and social support services for people struggling with addiction.
“We congratulate the Andrews Government for taking positive steps to protect and save lives by extending the operation of the Medically Supervised Injecting Room and proposing the adoption of a second facility within the City of Melbourne,” she said.
Fitzroy Legal Service has operated a drug outreach lawyer program within the City of Yarra for more than 20 years, and has acted in legal proceedings for thousands of people who use drugs over that time. Outreaches include the MSIR, and stretch from the Central Business District, through the City of Yarra and more recently to the City of Darebin.
Fitzroy Legal Service spokesperson, Meghan Fitzgerald, said their service was familiar with the complexity of alcohol and other drug dependence within a legal context and noted that clients faced extremely complex barriers to equitable access to medical and other treatment.
“As a service provider within the MSIR, we have observed the professionalism with which health and wrap around services have achieved effective meaningful outcomes within a short time frame for service users. Eighty percent of our drug outreach lawyer clients have a diagnosed mental illness, while 50 percent are homeless, and a further 25 percent live in unstable accommodation.”
Interactions with non-stigmatising interventions can be life changing. The role of MSIR has been particularly significant during the COVID-19 pandemic, acting as a hub of cross referrals into housing, and providing vital information on health and safety to people without housing.
“While we work at the interface of criminal justice and harm reduction, the human story behind alcohol and drug dependence can be marked by intergenerational trauma, family violence, homelessness, poverty and loss. The greatest loss the drug using community, workers, families, children and our broader community contends with is the loss of life,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“Fitzroy Legal Service commends the Victorian Government on taking positive measures to protect the sanctity of life consistent with obligations under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Each of the 3,200 reversals reported on by the MSIR Review Panel represents a traumatic event in which a safe health outcome has been secured by professional intervention by qualified medical staff,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
Kate Seear, Associate Professor of Law at Monash University said the opening of the MSIR was a positive step in the right direction.
"The announcement is very welcome news. Many experts around the world are now calling for less punitive responses to drug use. This includes the Chief Executives Board of the United Nations – a board comprising the heads of 31 UN agencies. This announcement suggests the Victorian government is listening to these calls, prioritising health and human rights over the failed war on drugs,” she said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified illegal drug dependence as the most stigmatised health condition in the world. According to WHO, stigma is a major cause of discrimination and exclusion and it contributes to the abuse of human rights. For people who use drugs, stigma not only takes the form of criminalisation of health conditions, it functions to exclude people (and encourage people to self-exclude) from employment, housing, community and treatment.
"Facilities such as these provide meaningful opportunities to work with individuals and the drug using community, both to address underlying issues that can reduce offending, and to institutionally communicate the message that Victorians believe the lives of people who use drugs are worth fighting for,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
The Federation of Community Legal Centres is pleased the Victorian Government understands the impact that drug use has on Victorians and is providing the support they need.