Sydney's Medically Supervised Injecting Centre

A half full syringe
After around ten years of operating on a trial basis, the New South Wales Government has indicated that it intends to make Sydney’s Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) a permanent facility. Despite the MSIC’s success in saving lives and reducing the incidence of infectious disease, the NSW Government has until now chosen not to grant it a more permanent status. This has been despite ongoing calls from medical experts and the Centre’s operator, Uniting Care, to lift the trial period and make the centre permanent.
Australia’s sole Medically Supervised Injecting Centre was set up on a trial basis in 2001 in Sydney’s Kings Cross, and has operated on this basis to date. The MSIC is supported by NSW enabling legislation (the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985) that was amended in 1999, and again in 2003 to enable the centre to continue to operate to 2007 on a trial basis. In 2007, the legislation was amended once again to further extend the MSIC trial for another four years to the end of October 2011.

Supervised injecting centres (also known as drug consumption rooms and safe injecting rooms) are essentially facilities that are set aside for the consumption of illicit drugs. As at 2006, there were 65 supervised injecting centres in operation world-wide, based in Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Canada and Australia.

Unlike illegal shooting galleries, such as those that operated in Sydney prior to the establishment of the MSIC, supervised injecting centres are sanctioned and provide professional health and welfare services to drug users. As such, these centres have been established as a pragmatic harm minimisation strategy, with the intention of reducing the health and public order problems associated with illegal injection drug use. The centres enable drug users to consume pre-obtained drugs in a stress-free atmosphere and under hygienic and low risk conditions.

Thus, the intent of supervised injecting centres is to try to safeguard the health and safety of both patrons and the wider community. The centres aim to reduce public nuisance (such as discarded injecting equipment, public injecting and intoxication and visible drug dealing), opioid-related overdoses (fatal and non-fatal), blood-borne virus transmission (such as HIV/AIDs and hepatitis C), and, to ensure that drug users remain engaged with the health and welfare system, thereby reducing the likelihood of their contracting and spreading blood-borne diseases.

A series of evaluations of the MSIC have been conducted since the centre was first opened. Generally speaking, the evaluation findings have been positive, and broadly comparable with evaluation results of other similar supervised injecting drug facilities, mostly located in European cities. Among other things, the MSIC has treated a substantial number of overdoses which may otherwise have occurred in public places and without medical support, thereby increasing the risks to drug users and others. There has also been a significant decrease in the number of needle syringes collected in the King’s Cross area since the MSIC commenced operations. Community surveys of local residents and businesses indicate that there has been an increase in support for the MSIC over the period in which it has been operating.

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