A coalition of medical and drug experts is calling for a supervised injecting centre to be opened in Fairfield or Liverpool after a spike in overdoses from heroin and similar drugs.
A new drug reform group, called Unharm, says the Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in Kings Cross has saved thousands of lives, and more could be saved if services were available in other areas such as south-west Sydney.
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Figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics show charges for possession or use of narcotics in the Fairfield local government area are more than five times more common per head of population than the rest of NSW, with Sydney the only area with a higher rate.
Unharm co-founder and Kings Cross resident Will Tregoning said politicians were patting themselves on the back for supporting the Kings Cross injecting room while neglecting other parts of Sydney.
“It just doesn’t make sense that Kings Cross would be the only area in need in Sydney, particularly when it has become relatively gentrified," he said.
The group believes Fairfield or Liverpool has the greatest need, although other places could be suitable.
President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and a doctor who specialised in drug and alcohol treatment, Alex Wodak, said Australia was seeing a growth in deaths from heroin and other opioids, after years of declines.
And Health Statistics NSW figures show ambulance call-outs to overdoses in major cities in NSW increased by more than 30 per cent since reaching their lowest point in 2005.
“Most of the heroin reaching Australia comes from Burma, and opioid production in Burma has actually been increasing ... I think we can expect to see a lot more of these problems emerging,” he said.
He said the injecting room provided social benefits, as the people who visited it tended to be “the most disadvantaged of a very disadvantaged group”.
“These are people who are often physically unhealthy, mentally unhealthy, and often isolated and alienated from the existing services that exist," he said.
Marianne Jauncey, the medical director of the Kings Cross Centre, said by the end of last year the centre had successfully treated 4937 overdoses.
“There has never been a death, and that’s absolutely crucial,” she said.
“A heroin overdose death is absolutely needless, people die because they stop breathing, and if you are there and can recognise that ... that’s all it takes to save someone’s life”.
Matt Noffs, the chief executive of the Ted Noffs Foundation, who has managed its street university program in Liverpool, said there was a need for more drug and alcohol services in the area.
“It would improve people’s lives, not just the people who are injecting, but the people around them,” he said. “These things wouldn’t be happening on the street any more, they would be happening behind closed doors and that makes the community much more safe.”
But Fairfield Mayor Frank Carbone said the area did not need an injecting centre. "I think we have only had one death in relation to heroin or narcotic use in the last seven years ... the police have really tackled the issue front on," he said. "We wouldn't want a clinic because they should be located where people are dying, and we wouldn't want people coming here to use it."
Mr Tregoning said Unharm was using an international day of action called “Support. Don’t Punish” on Thursday to push for drug law reform in Australia, as well as marking 15 years since a safe injecting space was established as "an act of civil disobedience" at the Wayside Chapel.