Deaths due to heroin overdoses in Victoria have increased in recent years, rising from 111 fatalities in 2011 to 172 in 2015. Many of these deaths have occurred in the inner-city suburb of North Richmond. This has put the need for a medically supervised safe injecting facility back onto the political agenda.
Despite the fact that a safe injection facility in North Richmond has the potential to save many lives, the Victorian Labor government opposes the idea.
In other cities around the world safe injecting facilities have been shown to reduce the risk of overdoses. But most importantly, safe injecting facilities help those who are addicted to heroin get connected to other social services that they need.
Drug addiction and social isolation are linked. Stigma around drug use can further isolate those with addictions and make seeking help even harder. This is why we need to treat drug addiction as a health issue, rather than a law and order issue.
Labor’s opposition to safe injecting facilities is connected to their attempt to portray themselves as being ‘tough on crime’. There is no doubt that they care more about trying to wedge the Liberals than they do about saving lives and solving social problems.
The only way to fundamentally improve the lives of people suffering from drug addiction is to minimise their social isolation and get them on the path to help. This can only be done by investing in public health services, including safe injecting facilities. At the same time, we need to decriminalise drug use and regulate drug manufacturing to ensure it is done safely.
Ultimately though, the best way to reduce drug use is to increase people’s standard of living and offer them a real future. This is something that capitalism cannot do.
By Kai Perry