In October 2017 a trial of a medically supervised injecting room (MSIR) was announced for Melbourne. This followed growing concern about the number of heroin-related deaths, two parliamentary inquiries and coronial findings that an injecting room would reduce the risk of death from heroin overdose. The location selected was 23 Lennox Street, Richmond, the site of North Richmond Community Health (NRCH), which was licensed to operate the MSIR for two years starting 30 June 2018.

The review was conducted by an independent panel of experts comprising Professor Margaret Hamilton (chair), Mr John Ryan and Associate Professor Ruth Vine (since January 2020). Associate Professor Alex Cockram and Mr Ken Lay were on the Panel for the earlier part of the review. The review has considered relevant research, surveys of the local community and service users, direct observation and communication with a range of stakeholders.

The focus of this review is the first 18 months of the MSIR’s operation (June 2018 to December 2019), which includes one year in a transitional facility and six months in a larger facility.

Key findings:

After the first 18 months of the trial, the panel found that NRCH successfully implemented a medically supervised injecting room noting that implementation remains a work in progress.

  • The MSIR had more than 119,000 visits in the first 18 months, making it one of the busiest in the world.
  • There have been no overdose deaths in the MSIR, despite 271 extremely serious overdoses.
  • While it is not possible to say with certainty how many people would have died without the MSIR, international approaches to modelling suggest at least 21–27 deaths have been avoided.
  • There has been a reduction in ambulance attendances due to overdoses.
  • There has been a reduction in reports of public injecting.
  • Many MSIR service users have accessed other health and support services.
  • The MSIR has provided screening, assessment and treatment initiation for blood-borne infections.

Given that North Richmond has long been a major site of heroin use and related harms in Victoria, and that the trial has successfully reduced harms for service users, the panel call on the government to continue the trial of the Medically Supervised Injecting Room at North Richmond Community Health for a further three years.

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