Pubdate: Wed, 28 Jul 1999
Source: Daily Telegraph (Australia)
Copyright: News Limited 1999
Author: David Penberthy


FROM THE outside, the Kings Cross injecting room will look more like an
average nightclub.

On the inside, it will owe more in style to a student common room, or even a

Only when you venture to the back room will its tragic purpose be revealed,
as drug-addicted people sit around stainless-steel benches or spartan tables
injecting themselves with heroin they have scored on the streets.

The Kings Cross injecting room, to be run jointly by the Sisters of Charity
Health Service and St Vincent's Hospital, will closely mirror the legal
injecting rooms of Switzerland.

"The most striking thing about the Swiss injecting rooms is the things that
go on other than the injecting," St Vincent's Alcohol and Drug Service
director Dr Alex Wodak told The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

Dr Wodak, who has visited the injecting room in the city of Bern, says the
Swiss have tried to provide drug users with a welcome environment where,
hopefully, they will face the pointlessness of their addiction.

The Bern injecting room is located in a part of town which may well be
replicated in Kings Cross. It is one block from a five-star hotel, one block
from the local police station, and across the road from the local ambulance

It has no permanent police presence, only a security guard at the door
outside to prevent violent or dangerously drug-addled people from entering.

Walk down a flight of stairs and you enter a basement area, where you meet
the first of the staff who run the service.

The staff, who number about 20, include nurses, doctors, social workers and
drug counsellors.

Just off the basement area is a laundry and shower area. Staff may suggest
to a person who is dirty, who has been clearly living on the streets for
days, that they go and disrobe, shower and wash their clothes while wearing
a gown provided by staff.

Go past the laundry and shower area and you reach an area which is similar
to a student common room with some chairs, tables and a cafeteria.

The cafeteria sells subsidised coffee, tea, soft drinks, soup and rolls, and
is staffed by a volunteer drug user who knows and understands the other
people who come to the injecting room.

Beyond the common room is the injecting room itself.

The door to the room is locked and a staff member, either a nurse or a
social worker, lets people enter and exit. The injecting room is a spartan
place, with stainless steel benches or tables running around the walls, and
a vacant space in the middle where the supervisor stands.

The users take a seat at the benches. Above them is a bright halogen light
which allows them to focus on their arms as they inject.

The injecting room is BYO. The supervisor stands in the middle of the room
and wears an apron from which he or she dispenses needles, syringes and
swabs. Users are asked whether they want a 1ml or 2ml syringe. They then
shoot up.

"This part is anything but glamorous," Dr Wodak said.

Once the users have injected themselves, they return to the common room area
where the staff encourage them to stay for at least 20 minutes.

"You see people picking their skin and their sores, it's very distressing,"
Dr Wodak says.

"But in that coffee lounge area, the counsellors or psychiatrists try to get
a conversation going, and people might say that they feel great, that
they've had a really beautiful hit. They might also start talking about how
they are planning to get off it and seeking help to get off it."

Dr Wodak is convinced of the merits of the Swiss project. Between 1992 and
1998, annual deaths from overdose have fallen in that country from 419 to
209. They have doubled in Australia over the same period.

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