Source: Sydney Morning Herald Contact: Thu, 31 Jul 1997 NSW boost for free heroin trial By BERNARD LAGAN The chances of early approval for Australia's controversial trial to distribute free heroin to addicts improved yesterday after the NSW Government said it now unequivocally supported the trial's startup phase in Canberra. The Minister for Health, Dr Refshauge, who joins his State and Federal counterparts in Cairns today to decide on the trial, acknowledged yesterday that NSW had changed its position after abstaining when the nation's health ministers discussed it last year. "We've changed," he said. "We've become much clearer in our position." The unconditional support of NSW for the heroin trial's first two stages were seen as a crucial. Without NSW support the Federal Government was reluctant to help fund the initial $2.5 million cost of the trial. NSW has the largest concentration of heroin users in Australia and the active support of NSW law enforcement authorities was needed for the trial to be controlled properly in the ACT. It is expected that Victoria, South Australia, NSW and the ACT Government will all support a start for the trial, which has been planned for the past five years by the Australian National University's Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health and the Australian Institute of Criminology. The West Australian Government remains opposed but last night the youth wings of that State's National, Democrats and Greens parties issued a joint appeal asking State governments to step "beyond political correctness" and support the trial. Under the first phase, 40 ACTbased heroin users would be eligible for free daily dosages from a specially established clinic over a sixmonth period to confirm that such a trial can be run successfully and to establish optimum dosage ranges. If the first phase meets specified criteria for success, the ACT trial will be expanded to 250 people and be required to answer more complicated questions, such as whether the option of free heroin can attract back addicts who have dropped out of other treatment programs. If the second stage is successful, health ministers will be required to decide if the trial's last and largest stage should go ahead the expansion of the trial to 1,000 addicts over three Australian capital cities. The Premier, Mr Carr, has firmly ruled out NSW taking part in this last stage, but yesterday Dr Refshauge pointed out that the report of the research team which has planned the heroin trial makes no recommendation in what three capitals the last phase should be conducted. The nation's health ministers will discuss the trial and will today see the results of new research which shows the numbers of people dying from heroin overdose each year rose by 700 per cent in Australia in the 15 years to 1995 and may not have peaked. The study, by the National Drug and Alcohol Centre, says deaths from heroin overdose increased from 70 in 1979 to 550 in 1995. * Fairfield City Council has agreed to allow a mobile needle exchange and a drug counselling service to operate from a former childcare centre in Fisher Street, Cabramatta. The council voted 96 on the plan, which will also provide a mobile needle distribution service to operate through Cabramatta's CBD.