North Richmond SIF supporting most vulnerable, new study shows

A new Burnet Institute study shows the North Richmond Medically Supervised Injecting Room (MSIR) is fulfilling its brief and playing a constructive role by attracting people who are most at risk from harm relating to their injecting drug use, and most in need of the service.

The research also points to positive impacts on the amenity of the local area through a reduction in public injecting.

The study shows the facility is being sought and used by vulnerable populations including:

  • a high proportion of young people,
  • people who’ve experienced non-fatal overdoses,
  • people who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, and
  • people who live locally.

“It’s attracting people who experience the most trying conditions and who are most at risk – the homeless, the unemployed, and people who are struggling the most,” supervising author, Professor Paul Dietze, Burnet Institute Program Director Behaviours and Health Risks, said.

“It’s also being used by younger people, and that’s important to link this group with treatment, education and support early on in their injecting experience.

“So, from that perspective, the North Richmond facility is serving an important function and working to its aims.”

Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the study involved a survey of 658 people who inject drugs (PWID), participants in Burnet’s longstanding Melbourne Injecting Drug User Cohort Study, or SuperMIX study – the largest cohort study of PWID ever conducted in Australia.

Among the findings, people at heightened risk of overdose – including people who might otherwise inject alone or in public – were more likely to use the MSIR, suggesting a potentially significant benefit in preventing overdose mortality.

“The study also found that those who use the service frequently are much less likely to inject in public, pointing to a wider community benefit,” Professor Dietze said.

“We should be encouraging regular use of the facility by people who inject drugs, because there are not only benefits to the people themselves, but reduced public injecting has an impact on the amenity of the local area.”

The study found that participants who used the MSIR frequently were more likely to live in North Richmond or adjoining suburbs.

“Living distant from a safe injecting facility (SIF) is a known barrier to its use,” Professor Dietze said, “so these findings underscore the limited geographic coverage of a single SIF site in a city as large as Melbourne.”

The study notes the Victorian Government’s commitment to opening a second site in Melbourne, and the need to monitor the potential benefits for the wider community.

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