Fight to save lives continues as community reacts with mixed emotions to injection room scrap

Fight to save lives continues as community reacts with mixed emotions to injection room scrap
Brendan Rees

Community members have expressed disappointment over the state government’s decision to reject a supervised drug injection room in the CBD while others, including traders, say it has been met with relief.

The proposal, which would have provided a safe and monitored drug injecting centre, was scrapped by the government after conceding it was “unable to identify a suitable site that balances the needs of people who use drugs with the needs of the broader CBD community”.

Instead, the government plans to establish a community health centre at 244 Flinders St, connecting GPs, counsellors, allied health, and addiction medicine specialists, as well as expanded drug treatment.

While the Victoria Police Association and traders who spoke to CBD News welcomed the decision, supporters of such a facility, including the Keep Our City Alive (KOCA) group, said the “announcement does not go far enough and represents a band-aid solution to a broader issue”.

But Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar owner David Malaspina said while he was not against an injection room, the proposed Bourke St site would have been inappropriate.

“Common sense has prevailed, and a better location should be sought,” he told CBD News. “The community talks to us, and we pass that on … that the community doesn’t want it. We don’t understand why it would be considered at our beautiful top end of the city.”

Mr Malaspina made it clear that “we’re not for or against an injection room – we were against the proposed location,” noting disappointingly there was no consultation.

“[The location] affects traders, that affects residents, that affects anyone who comes to the city.”

Asked if he supported a new community health centre, Mr Malaspina said he hoped it “would be available for everyone that needs help”.

Waffle On owner Marc Laucher, whose shop is on Degraves St, said he was also relieved with the news but hoped there were other ways to help drug users.

“We are not against an injection room – we have to do something for those people because they’re lost,” he said.

Mr Laucher said Flinders St was not an appropriate location because it was the one of the busiest areas for tourists and visitors.

According to a Coroners Court of Victoria report, the number of heroin-involved deaths within Melbourne rose from nine in 2021 to 24 in 2022 – the highest annual rate of deaths involving the drug in the past 10 years, with the previous highest being 16 in 2014.

A rise in the death rate was not confined to Melbourne, with a state-wide 33 per cent increase in heroin-involved overdoses (from 173 to 230).

Professor Suzanne Nielsen, opioid expert and deputy director of Monash Addiction Research Centre, said there was an urgent need to upscale a range of effective harm reduction interventions, including supervised injecting facilities.

“This is especially so with the threat of high-potency opioids such as nitazenes being detected in Australia,” she said.

“It is a false dichotomy to say we are choosing between a supervised injecting room and treatment – we urgently need more of both.”

City of Melbourne councillor Dr Olivia Ball, a former psychologist as well as a health and wellbeing spokesperson for the council, said evidence was clear that a safe injecting room was needed, “especially in the face of synthetic opioids already circulating in Australia that are far, far more dangerous than heroin”.

“Melbourne City Council has repeatedly called on the state government to open overdose prevention services (aka supervised injecting) in the City of Melbourne,” she said.

“Our municipality now has the highest death rate from opioid overdose of any in the country. Someone dies in the City of Melbourne every other week, on average. And surviving an unmanaged overdose puts one at risk of brain injury – the costs to the individual and society are enormous.”

Cr Dr Ball successfully moved a motion at a council meeting last November calling on the state government to improving access to naloxone, an overdose reversal medicine – which the government announced in April it would trial at 20 vending machines alongside needle exchange programs.

Dr Stan Capp, president of residents group EastEnders, said he stood by comments he made in 2021, that “there is no doubt that harm to users is minimised with a supervised injection service”. 

“Ironically, the fears of some residents and traders will not be eliminated simply because there is no injection service as drug users remain on the streets in unsafe injecting environments.  At least an injection room would have created a safer space,” he said.

Residents 3000 president Raf Camillo welcomed the state government’s decision to reject an injection room but at the same time was concerned a new health centre “could become a Trojan horse” on Flinders St.

“The money should be spent in partnership with council and state on mental health facilities and rehabilitation beds in hospitals as the waiting list is more than four months,” he said.


There should be a partnership with council, state and hospitals instead of money going directly to not-for-profit organisations as they are not accountable, and we should be focussing on people in disarray waiting for rehabilitation.


Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the council welcomed the government’s “state-wide response to a state-wide problem”.

“The announcement of a dedicated, comprehensive approach to long-term health and social support will make a positive difference to more people’s lives,” she said.

“Speculation about a second injecting room has created uncertainty for city traders, residents and workers. We now have a resolution to the Ken Lay report and can move forward with improving health and amenity in the city.”

Victorian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Paul Guerra said the state government’s decision delivered a “pragmatic and respectful outcome”.

“As a compassionate and inclusive business community, we want to see our vulnerable taken care of, which will have a positive impact also on ambience and the perception of safety in our city,” he said.

“No business wants an injecting room on their doorstop, but I think everyone agrees that something needs to be done to address drug use in the CBD.”

The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association CEO Chris Christoforou welcomed the announcement of state-wide action plan which was “bittersweet, given the innovations to save lives are offset by the decision to not proceed with a CBD MSIR (medically supervised injecting room).”

But he commended the government on trialing hydromorphone, “with these types of initiatives including the increased access to naloxone playing a protective role in the event of a rise in fentanyl and other potent synthetic opioids”. •

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