Victoria is set to trial a safe injecting room, where users will be able to inject their drug of choice in a medically supervised safe space. The trial will run for at least two years, followed by a review.
It will be the first injecting room in Victoria and the second in Australia, after an injecting room was established in Kings Cross, Sydney, in 2001.
The decision comes after Premier Daniel Andrews rejected the idea of a safe injecting room earlier this year, despite repeated calls from the state coroner for such a trial.
The injecting room will be set up in the inner-city suburb of North Richmond, where 34 people have lost their lives to drug overdoses so far this year, a rise of more than 40% from last year.
Residents and shopkeepers in North Richmond have been calling all year for such a facility, which has the support of paramedics, nurses and firefighters' unions. The police union recently announced it no longer opposes it.
The government has also come under pressure from the Greens who are campaigning strongly on the issue in the state seat of Richmond.
Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley said Cabinet approved the proposal on October 30, after a review of a private members’ bill put forward by Fiona Patten from the Reason Party, and after considering advice from police, the coroner and community stakeholders.
He told the ABC the case for a safe injecting room was now overwhelming.
“We know that the facts around this are clear,” he said. “The number of Victorians dying from overdoses has doubled since 2012. More Victorians now lose their lives because of drug overdoses than they do on our roads.”
The government also announced funding for another 100 drug and alcohol rehabilitation beds, many of them in regional Victoria, as part of the $53 million package.
Patten said: “My bill was brought about due to the tireless advocacy of grief-stricken families, paramedics, key stakeholders working on the front line, residents, researchers and health professionals across Victoria.
“The needless deaths in North Richmond this year alone are reason enough for this government to act and today they finally have.”
Every month, the North Richmond Health Service, where the trial will be held, hands out 60,000 needles. It also has addiction and mental health services, as well as a range of other services.
Patten said it is essential the injecting room is in North Richmond, which she called the "epicentre of the heroin problem in Victoria".
“It will ensure that people who are dependent on heroin can use it under supervision, but most importantly can be put back into the system where we can start referring them to drug treatment programs and we can start helping them get their lives back on track,” she said.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the Coalition would not support an injecting room, but support from Patten, the Greens and Vote 1 Local Jobs MP James Purcell gives the government the upper house numbers it needs to pass the bill.