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.