On Thursday I got a small insight into what life is like as a heroin addict.
It was the story of a man, let’s call him Bob, who told me he would often shoot up in his car, too ashamed to let family and friends know what he was doing.
Bob described himself as a father, a son, a husband, an uncle, and a former public servant who had basically blown everything on a habit he desperately wanted to kick, but had so far failed.
Every time he shot up he was petrified it would kill him. He knows it is only a matter of time before the fentanyl which has turned up in heroin in the United States starts appearing in Australian heroin, and that will kill him.
I heard this story because Bob wanted people to know anyone could be a heroin addict. The common feeling is that junkies are scruffy, dirty and up to no good. But in reality a heroin addict can be anyone.
Bob also wanted to throw his support behind a legal drug injecting room in the ACT. It’s a concept that is back on the table as part of a four-year ACT Drug Strategy Action Plan designed to minimise harm from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
Bob said a legal injecting room would make life safer for him, providing not just a safe environment to shoot up, but also to provide him support to try to beat his habit.
I also spoke to former ACT health minister Michael Moore, who first started campaigning for a supervised injecting room in Canberra more than 20 years ago. His efforts back then ran into a significant roadblock in the form of two independent MLAs who could see no benefit in providing a legal and safe place for drug addicts to feed their habit.
Needless to say, Michael Moore had mixed feelings about the new four-year strategy. Of course he was very happy that finally the ACT might join Sydney and Melbourne in providing a safe injecting room.
But he was also very sad, and angry, that more than 20 years had been wasted getting to this stage, and the subsequent cost in human misery that had been inflicted on individuals and families.
He has continued fighting for drug reform right across Australia, and can feel the momentum changing.
There is still a little way to go before the injecting room, and other drug reforms, become a reality in the ACT. The plan is to have the service located in Civic, providing clean needles, medical supervision and access to counsellors etc. Importantly the centre will not provide the drugs, although Michael Moore is hopeful one day this will be considered.
By the way, Michael Moore was also the ACT minister who tabled the assisted dying legislation in the ACT back in the 1990s that led to the Andrews Bill, which took away the rights of the ACT to even debate such legislation.
Canberrans generally celebrated the demise of the Andrews Bill last month. It will be interesting to see how we deal with the ACT Drug Strategy Action Plan.