“I will not let Danial’s death be in vain”: a CBD injecting room will save lives
By Katrina Korver
In February the Coroners Court of Victoria released a snapshot of Victorian overdose data for the two years to June 2022, which showed that 68 and 64 Victorians lost their lives, respectively, in the first two quarters of 2022 to heroin overdoses.
This represented a jump of more than 33 per cent, compared to an average of 42 deaths per quarter across the preceding 18 months.
Our son Danial was one of those statistics, one of nine people who died of heroin overdose in the CBD in 2022.
On Saturday, June 11 at 3.45pm he injected heroin alone in Rainbow Alley in the CBD and was found unresponsive by a local café worker. The fire brigade and ambulance Victoria crew worked on him for 30 minutes before declaring him deceased.
He had scored the heroin only a few blocks away in Little Bourke St and made a beeline for the quiet alley near Melbourne Town Hall, away from the judgement of the public eye.
Although I don’t know every detail of Danial’s final hours, I know that if there had been a supervised injecting room in the CBD, our son would still be alive.
Danial was a regular user of the North Richmond injecting room but travelling to North Richmond from the CBD was not an option. Apart from the risk of being picked up by police while en route, the physiological need to feed his addiction would have been overwhelming.
As he told me once, “Mum, you’ll never understand, but once you have those drugs in your hands, every receptor in your body is screaming out for you to use them and to get some relief.”
Danial did not want to die. He had a 13-year-old son. He had recently moved into a new home and found some stability. He was an experienced roof tiler and was making plans to get his small business back up and running. He was funny, kind, and well-liked.
Thanks to health workers at the North Richmond injecting room, he had started on long-acting opioid replacement therapy, depot buprenorphine, which was keeping him off heroin for a month at a time. At the time of his death, he hadn’t attended his last two GP appointments to get the depot bupe injection.
Since June when Danial died, there have been several overdoses in the same alley. A nearby café owner tells me that people regularly use the laneway to inject unsafely alone, and my weekly visits to lay flowers confirm this as there is always syringe litter on the ground.
In 2020 the Victorian Government committed to opening a CBD supervised injecting room, after an expert independent panel recommended that a second facility would take pressure off North Richmond and further reduce drug related harm in the community.
But nearly three years on there has been no movement. Any notion that drug use in the CBD has subsided is delusional. People are still dying of overdose in their homes, in our laneways and public toilets.
Community health service, cohealth, says that its outreach team has responded to double the usual number of overdoses in the CBD in the past four months. And CBD-based drop-in service, the Living Room, says they handed out one million clean injecting kits in 2022.
If we’re worried about what message an injecting room sends to tourists arriving in our city, I would argue that a discreet injecting room is more palatable than a dead body.
For Danial it is too late for help. There is no further possibility of getting back onto pharmacotherapy. No chance he’ll revive his business. No opportunity to see his child again.
Maybe he never would have fully recovered from addiction, but there was always hope. Even when he was in the depths of his addiction, he never stopped being my son.
I will not let Danial’s death be in vain. We cannot stand by and do nothing when all the evidence tells us what will turn the tide on this health crisis.
I believe that Melburnians are compassionate, kind-hearted people who want to see evidence-based policies that address complex problems.
A CBD injecting room may be painted as controversial by some sections of the media, but when we strip away the sensationalism, we are talking about establishing a health service that saves lives.
Katrina Korver is a mother, grandmother, wife and nurse living in Melbourne’s north. •