How the tide turned on failed plans for Canberra safe injecting rooms


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The proposal for a protected injecting room has surfaced after being included within the territory authorities’s ACT Drug Technique Motion Plan.

A safe injecting room in Melbourne.

A protected injecting room in Melbourne.Credit score:Darrian Traynor

Emeritus Professor Douglas mentioned the present try for the room may look to the previous to be taught why earlier plans didn’t get off the bottom.

A trial trying into the effectiveness of offering heroin to addicts was first proposed in 1991 by former ACT well being minister Michael Moore.

The plan was authorized by the Ministerial Council on Drug Technique in 1997, and would have concerned 40 heroin customers within the ACT over a six-month interval.

Whereas the plan was supported by then-ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell, it had a number of high-profile opponents, together with the Prime Minister.

Former independent ACT MLA Michael Moore proposed a heroin trial in the ACT during the 1990s, which was ultimately quashed by the federal government.

Former impartial ACT MLA Michael Moore proposed a heroin trial within the ACT in the course of the 1990s, which was finally quashed by the federal authorities.Credit score:Jamila Toderas

“John Howard quashed the proposal, although we had a proposal supported by the ministerial council to undertake a trial in Canberra,” Emeritus Professor Douglas mentioned.

“It was very irritating for us. We had a group on the nationwide centre of epidemiology, and had labored for 4 years on the proposal.”

On the time of the trial’s proposal, the general public have been primarily in opposition to the concept, in line with Emeritus Professor Douglas.

“The group believed which you could stamp out leisure drug use by placing individuals in jail and imposing draconian sentences on them. It simply does not work,” he mentioned.

“There’s now a completely completely different surroundings to the 90s.”


A protected injecting room was proposed quickly after the heroin trial was rejected, with Michael Moore outlining a plan for one in Civic in 1998, earlier than it was rejected the next yr.

Whereas Kate Carnell and then-Opposition Chief Jon Stanhope voiced their assist for a protected injecting room on the time, branches of the Canberra Liberals handed a decision calling for no additional motion on the scheme with out a referendum.

Debate on the problem continued into the brand new millennium, though it reached an deadlock, with the federal government on the time agreeing to defer the concept till after the 2002 ACT election.

Within the time since debate stalled within the ACT, two protected injecting rooms have been arrange, one in Sydney’s King Cross and one opening this yr in Richmond in Melbourne.

Emeritus Professor Douglas mentioned the services in Sydney and Melbourne have proved to be a hit.

“If a room in Canberra can do it in addition to they’ve in Sydney, it could have a big impact on Canberra’s drug drawback,” he mentioned.

“The world surroundings is altering quickly, and Australia must catch up.”

Earlier this week, ACT Well being Minister Meegan Fitzharris mentioned the federal government was seeking to implement a protected injecting room because of an increase of opioid-related deaths, with greater than 1000 overdose shows to Canberra’s hospitals yearly.

“We all know the results of drug use could be devastating, not solely for many who use medication, but in addition for his or her family and friends and the broader group,” Ms Fitzharris mentioned.


A current report by assume tank Australia 21, acknowledged extra protected injecting rooms needs to be established as a part of a harm-minimisation technique.

Among the many different suggestions from the report, which got here from a spherical desk of drug specialists earlier this yr, discovered legislation enforcement efforts ought to deal with producers and create new infrastructure for drug therapy and rehabilitation.

“Lengthy-term legalisation of medicine needs to be a rigorously evaluated, incremental course of, commencing with formally recognised “decriminalisation” of some at the moment illicit medication,” the report mentioned.

Emeritus Professor Douglas mentioned with the general public perspective having shifted on the concept of a protected injecting room, he hoped one might be working in Canberra as quickly as attainable.

“The earlier method to medication has not labored. The jail authorities and police and judges at the moment are agreeing we’ve got to have a rethink on the problem,” he mentioned.

Andrew Brown is a journalist on the Sunday Canberra Occasions. Andrew has labored on the Canberra Occasions since 2016.

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