State government scraps plans for safe injecting room in CBD

State government scraps plans for safe injecting room in CBD
Brendan Rees

The state government has rejected a proposal for a supervised injecting room in the CBD, instead announcing plans for a new community health hub in Flinders St.

In a statement released on April 23, the government cited an inability to find a suitable site that balanced the needs of both drug users and the community.

The decision comes after the government released a long-delayed report by former police commissioner Ken Lay, which had been kept confidential until now.

It was handed to the government in May last year with the recommendation that a small safe injecting room with a booth for four to six people be set up in an area of high use in the city – but the government has not accepted this proposal.

“The government has been unable to identify a suitable site that balances the needs of people who use drugs with the needs of the broader CBD community, so a second supervised injecting service won’t proceed,” the statement said.


Mr Lay noted in his report that “an injecting service trial that focuses on being a good neighbour – working with the community it serves and surrounds – will have the greatest chance of achieving its core objectives”.


However, Mental Health Minister Ingrid Stitt instead announced a $95.11 million “statewide action plan” which will responded to “all the recommendations” of the Lay report, “delivering on all but one of them and providing more support for services in the suburbs and regions”.

This included setting up a new $36.4 community health service at the former Yooralla building at 244 Flinders St, which was initially floated to house a safe injecting room.

The government said the hub would be a “gateway for wraparound health and social support services” and include a trial of a Victorian-first hydromorphone treatment trial.

Select participants will be identified by cohealth of trialling the strong drug with the aim of diverting people from the illicit drug market.

“Drug harms touch every community – with around 90 per cent of overdose deaths involving heroin occurring outside the City of Melbourne. This is a state-wide problem, and it calls for a state-wide solution that also provides for Victoria’s suburbs and regional centres and boosts services in areas where it’s harder to access care,” the government said.

“The state-wide action plan does just that, starting with a much-needed increase in services of the most effective treatment option available to mitigate the problems that stem from opioid dependence: pharmacotherapy.”

Ms Stitt said pharmacotherapy was the most effective treatment option available, noting the government would invest $8.4 million to boost it in up to 30 locations through a grants program targeting areas of high-demand or looming service gaps, allowing up to 1500 people to access treatment.

As part of a health-led approach to addressing drug harms in the city, multiple agencies, health providers and community will also come together in a “CBD Reference Group” to coordinate the local response.

The government said the Victorian Health Building Authority would immediately initiate design and procurement work for 244 Flinders St, and cohealth would scale up outreach services in the CBD now, with new locations to roll out after July 1. 

Work also began on April 23 for Naloxone, an overdose reversal medicine, to be trialled at 20 vending machines alongside needle exchange programs.

The plan also sees the appointment of Victoria’s first “chief addiction adviser” within the Department of Health system and starts the development of Victoria’s first state-wide strategy to address drug harms over the long-term.

Beyond the new hub, the plan also delivers wraparound services at the Salvation Army at 69 Bourke St, which had also been listed as a possible site for the injecting facility, providing medical, nursing and mental health supports.

Cohealth chief executive Nicole Bartholomeusz said their organisation would work closely with the CBD community to provide increased access to healthcare in the heart of the city.

“Through our unwavering commitment to harm reduction we will work closely with the community, stakeholders, partners, the people who need our services and Government to deliver support to those who need it most, with compassion and expertise. Our aim is to build a healthier, safer, and more inclusive community,” she said.

Salvation Army Major Brendan Nottle welcomed the government’s announcement, saying it would “provide significant support to the most vulnerable in the city and across the state. We believe these initiatives will genuinely help keep people alive.”

Liberal MP for the Northern Metropolitan Region representing the CBD Evan Mulholland said he was glad the debate was now settled.

"I've been speaking out publicly in the Parliament and the media on behalf of residents and CBD traders on how damaging a CBD injecting room would be. I'm glad this debate is now settled," Mr Mulholland said. 

"This long-overdue decision ends years of uncertainty for residents, traders and visitors to Melbourne’s CBD and provides the opportunity to focus on delivering commonsense solutions to the growing problem of drug and alcohol dependency."

"Now that this overdue decision has been made, the focus must shift to delivering services that will address the worsening rates of drug-addiction that continue to grow under the Allan Labor Government."

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the council welcomed the Victorian Government's "statewide response to a statewide 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," Cr Capp 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."

"The City of Melbourne has a highly dedicated and engaged on-street support team and will seek further opportunities to work closely with the Victorian Government and health agencies to improve health and amenity in the city." •

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