Injecting trial already changing lives

Above: Yarra Mayor, Cr Danae Bosler, meets with Dr Nico Clarke at the North Richmond Community Health Centre.

Yarra Council is a strong supporter of North Richmond Community Health’s supervised injecting facility trial. During its first year of operation, the team has successfully managed more than 1,130 overdoses.

A new, purpose-built centre will open at the site later this year, replacing the temporary one. Prior to the facility opening, a number of people lost their lives to overdoses in public spaces.

Medical experts selected this location for the facility because drugs were already being bought and injected in the area.

We recently spoke with the facility’s Medical Director, Dr Nico Clark.

The trial has now been in operation for a year. What have been your biggest learnings?

Dr Nico Clark: One of our biggest lessons has been to understand why our clients have developed drug dependencies. More often than not, they disclose the most horrific, tragic personal stories, which gives perspective on how their drug use came about. Many grew up in situations where the adults caring for them had mental health and substance abuse problems of their own. The average age at which our clients began injecting drugs was only 16.

Many clients have started to take better care of themselves, in some cases stop using drugs, gain employment, reunite with their families, and escape situations of domestic violence.

Reducing the number of fatal overdoses is one of the biggest aims of the trial. How is this going?

In the transitional facility we currently treat an average of three overdoses a day. It’s difficult to know how many of these would have been fatal, how many would have resulted in brain damage, or how many would have resulted in the person being assaulted while unconscious. Data suggests that ambulance call outs to the area have started to fall… in the hours when the room is open.

Realistically we need to look at a range of measures to reduce overdose, including scaling up opioid dependence treatments such as methadone and buprenorphine, distributing naloxone, training, and encouraging people to intervene if they see someone who might be experiencing an overdose, even if just to call an ambulance.

Supervising injecting is just one aspect of the trial. Can you tell us about the other services on offer?

Our clients have multiple and complex health needs that are not being met in traditional care. More than 150 people have been tested for hepatitis, with 40 people entering treatment. Through the injecting room service, more than 100 people have entered pharmacotherapy treatment already, with more than 150 clients also receiving referrals to other forms of alcohol and drug treatment services.

We also treat wound infections and test for and treat hepatitis, HIV and other blood-borne or sexually transmitted infections (supported by St Vincent’s Health). We provide primary care including administering vaccinations (including the Fluvax). We support access to a range of health and social services including oral health care, drug treatment (with Uniting ReGen) naloxone overdose response training, and legal advice through our clinic with Fitzroy Legal Service.

Visit the North Richmond Community Health website to learn more about this ground-breaking trial.

Listening to your concerns

Yarra Council has committed an extra $300,000 for a new street sweeper and extra cleaning patrols to improve cleanliness of streets around North Richmond. This follows the Victorian Government’s announcement of extra security and social outreach services. We are working with North Richmond Community Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria Police, and other agencies to ensure a coordinated response to community concerns.

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