9 December 2022

Supervised drug injecting room still years away in the ACT

| Lottie Twyford
Join the conversation
safe injecting room

Melbourne and Sydney have already established safe injecting sites. Photo: File.

Drug and alcohol reform advocates say a supervised injecting site will save lives.

The Territory might be a progressive jurisdiction when it comes to most elements of drug policy by decriminalising small amounts of substances – including ice, cocaine, heroin and cannabis – and setting up pill testing.

But despite the fact the ACT last year recorded the highest number of drug-induced deaths per capita in the country, it’s yet to set up an injecting room.

And it’s unlikely there will be one until after 2024, the ACT Government today conceded. Despite it committing to “working” on establishing one.

A trial for safe injecting rooms was first floated in the Territory by former health minister Michael Moore. That was quashed by the Federal Government – and there’s still no timeframe for when it will be operational.

Rachel Stephen Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has recommitted to working on setting up a safe injecting site. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A 2021 ACT Government-commissioned feasibility study recommended a medically supervised injection room in Canberra located in Civic.

It also found such a room had the backing of those who used drugs.

But Ms Stephen-Smith said at the time the government would need to consult with the community before making a decision.

Labor and the Greens committed to piloting a “safe drug consumption site” in their 2020 power-sharing agreement.

In a statement, Ms Stephen-Smith said the government would continue to work through issues relating to establishing a facility.

She didn’t elaborate on those issues.

READ ALSO City stadium idea a winner says Lee, with eye on 2024

Drug users were supervised in injecting rooms, Dr Devin Bowles of the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Association (ATODA) explained.

It means someone is on hand to assist if drugs are laced with a dangerous substance such as fentanyl, users take the wrong dosage, or haven’t used drugs in a while and react differently.

No-one has died in an injecting room in Melbourne and Sydney where centres have been operating since 2018 and 2001 respectively.

Drug users can also begin to interact with the health system in a positive, non-judgmental way.

“Supervised consumption rooms are also places where people can have conversations about other things they can do to reduce health risks from drug use,” Dr Bowles said. “And even think about reducing or stopping drug consumption if that is what they want.”

READ ALSO Man who fostered 300 children handed six years’ jail for sexual abuse of boy

Dr Bowles is particularly keen to see an injecting room set up as the insidious presence of fentanyl continues in other drugs overseas, particularly in the United States.

He’s concerned Australia will soon experience the same challenge from the deadly substance.

But he acknowledges there is always some reticence when it comes to where a supervised site will be set up.

“A supervised consumption room should be located where it is easily accessible. People who use drugs live across the ACT and are often reliant on public transport,” he said.

“If people can’t attend a supervised consumption room easily, the number of people that it helps would be reduced. We want every person who is injecting drugs to be able to do so in a supervised environment.”

Chris Gough

CAHMA executive director Chris Gough says work needs to progress on the long-promised safe injecting room. Photo: Mitch Lamb, CAHMA.

Executive director of the Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA) Chris Gough agreed it was time for the government to make some progress on its commitment.

He acknowledged the complexity of setting one up in Canberra compared to Sydney or Melbourne.

“In Richmond and Kings Cross, there was – and currently is – a public and visible drug scene … people overdosing and injecting on the streets so it became a public problem,” he said.

“That’s not what we have here in the Territory as there’s no street-based drug market.”

While that doesn’t mean users aren’t experiencing drug harm locally, it does raise questions about what the model of care will look like and where a centre, or centres, should be set up.

“That might mean not setting up a whole new service, which could cost a lot,” Mr Gough said. “It might mean using existing services and referral pathways to integrate an injecting facility.

“We’ve done the work. We know the community wants it and needs it and we’ve got the expertise to build it.”

The full ACT Drug Strategy Action Plan 2022-2026 is available online.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

How about all the armchair experts who are against progressive policies like harm minimisation point out a country or an example with better outcomes.

Maybe we could put everyone in jail like the US does or shoot them like in Nth Korea.

ChrisinTurner5:03 pm 11 Dec 22

I thought we already had one in Civic. This is a no-brainer.

There is a drug testing facility in Civic ChrisinTurner. It is a 6 month pilot and I think it ends in January. It is the first facility of its type in Australia and has proved its worth. Pill testing has been on the radar for years in the ACT and progressed thanks to the good work of our previous health minister Meegan Fitzharris and the many professionals who contributed to its establishment. Its establishment was scuttled in 2019 leading up to the Spilt Milk concert by Jeremy Hanson with the support of his party and the intervention of the federal government.

I am becoming so disillusioned with Rachel Stephen-Smith as Health Minister. Most particularly her response (or lack of) to drug law reform. Safe injecting rooms were first proposed by the Liberal leader Kate Carnell 22 years ago. Her government believed that drug addiction should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. These harm minimisation strategies went some way in recognising and tackling drug use and the social and psychological effects on families and societies. Labor and the cross-bench supported the proposal. The Liberals lost the election and Labor has been flip flopping around on the issue ever since. Currently, the ACT has the highest number of drug-induced deaths per capita in the country. That is shameful!! Sydney and Melbourne have established their own injecting rooms. These rooms allow addicts to inject safely where they can get advice and treatment from health professions. Ms Stephen-Smith’s softly softly, do nothing attitude to any reform is incredibly sickening. But who else does Labor have? Where are the Greens? Look at the opposition. Their conservative and negative approach to drug law reform has been established. Their constant negativity and not to mention their muddled and unsuitable spokesperson for health. And all this while supposedly holding the government to account!

You vote for them

Put it next to the Minister’s house

Capital Retro8:49 am 11 Dec 22


Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.