In response to the growing debate surrounding safe injecting facilities in Melbourne, The Age published a Letter to the Editor from Burnet Institute’s Professor Robert Power in which he noted a review and study both conducted by the Institute.
The evidence in support of safe injecting facilities is persuasive. Last year the Burnet Institute was commissioned by the Yarra Drug Health Forum to review the national and international literature and evaluations, to consult with leading international experts, and to assess the viability of establishing a safe injecting facility in Melbourne.
Prior to this, in 2008, Burnet conducted a Victorian-based study of injecting in public places and found it to be an issue of major public and community concern.
Having worked in HIV prevention for more than 25 years, with a special interest in reducing the harmful consequences of injecting drug use, I have personally witnessed innumerable occasions and contexts where drug users endeavour to find somewhere ‘safe’ to inject, where they will be out of view and out of harm’s way.
The fact that this ‘safe’ place is often far from it is starkly confirmed by another Burnet study (Melbourne Injecting Drug User Cohort Study) which noted that for 62% of respondents the last place they injected was in a public toilet, a park, a stairwell, or in a parked car.
If nothing else, safe injecting facilities gets injecting off the streets and into a truly safe environment. Once the drug injector is inside, staff have the opportunity to address the myriad problems facing these individuals, not least their risk of contracting and spreading lethal blood-borne viruses and other drug related harms, notably overdose.
Good for the individual, good for the community, good for public health. At the Burnet our currency is evidence, not rhetoric or opinion. Our byline is medical research, practical action. The evidence is in, it’s now up to Victorians to decide how we should respond.
Professor Robert Power
Principal for Disease Prevention