After running for quite some time amidst intense debates, the New South Wales Government has announced plans to make the medically-supervised drug injecting centre at Kings Cross a permanent fixture. This unit has been functioning since 2001 and was still looking for permanency. A latest review of this trial center showed that it has successfully managed more than 3,000 overdoses and helped 12,000 drug users.
The Premier, Kristina Keneally, and the Deputy Premier and Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt, announced the decision this morning, following approval by cabinet yesterday.
Ms Keneally feels this center has made a positive difference to people's lives. She said, “In an ideal world, the need for such a facility wouldn't exist… The reality is different and the centre has provided help to people who are most at risk - particularly from overdose death, disease and street violence… It has also reduced the incidence of public injecting.” She said that it will be beneficial if this center were permanent. She added, “We will of course in formalising the facility ensure that it undergo regular statutory evaluations every five years… The NSW Police Commissioner and the Director General of Health will also retain the authority to immediately revoke the centre's license should it ever be necessary.”
The Kings Cross Police Commander, Superintendent Tony Crandell feels that while drug prohibition is not working, this center can prevent drug abuse related mortality. He said, “Since the injecting centre my officers report upon those deaths infrequently…Additionally I'm told by business owners and also residents of the area that the number of needles has significantly reduced in Kings Cross and that the amenity of the area has improved greatly.”
The team at the center is happy with the permanency decision. Centre’s founding Medical Director, Dr Ingrid Van Beek said, “It's particularly great that the work the staff have done there day in day out has finally been recognized…These issues are too complex to be subject to party-politicking.” The medical director of the centre, Marianne Jauncey enthused at the decision saying, “As a doctor and researcher, the word trial sends the image that we don't know whether or not it's working, when it very clearly is…Constantly having our ability to open our doors linked to State Parliament means the inevitable politicisation and media focus, which we would welcome an end to.” Dr Jauncey said the centre catered for about 200 injections a day, which otherwise would take place on the streets.
However Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell still feels a conscience vote on the proposal is necessary. He said he would need “hard data” that it was helping addicts shake their drug dependency before considering calls to make it permanent.