HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Sydney Heroin Injecting Room Ready for
Pubdate: Fri, 16 Mar 2001
Source: Reuters
Copyright: 2001 Reuters Limited
Author: Michael Perry
Bookmark: (Safe Injecting Rooms)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's first official heroin injecting room is 
ready for business, but its doors remain closed as a legal battle over its 
fate rages, leaving drug addicts to shoot up in a street around the corner.

Money confiscated from criminals has transformed the former amusement 
centre in Sydney's Kings Cross, the country's notorious red light and drug 
district, into a state-of-the-art clinic.

Medical director Ingrid Van Beek hopes to open the centre within a month if 
the local chamber of commerce fails in a legal bid next Wednesday to have 
the centre's license rejected.

But Van Beek fears the longer the doors remain closed the more lives will 
be lost, especially as 20% of overdoses in the state of New South Wales 
occur on the streets of Kings Cross.

In fact, 90% of ambulance call-outs for overdoses in ``the Cross'' are 
within 300 metres (985 feet) of the centre.

``I can't say that lives have been lost or that we will save lives, but 
that is our expectation or hope,'' Van Beek told Reuters in an interview at 
a needle exchange centre in Kings Cross.

``The longer we delay, the longer people continue to use in current 
circumstances, which we know results in probably around 100 deaths a year 
and for every death there are 10 to 20 non-fatal overdoses,'' she said.

One Way Traffic

The centre has been designed in three stages, unlike many European 
injecting centres which are open and communal.

Drug users will be greeted by a receptionist, then move to eight injecting 
booths and finally a recovery room. The injecting rooms can accommodate 
two, allowing people to shoot-up together.

``We know people tend to inject in pairs and we don't want to discourage 
that because we know that drug overdose deaths are associated with 
injecting on your own,'' said Van Beek.

The centre will be staffed by three nurses, five counsellors and a security 
guard. ``They (nurses) will be advising vein care, rotating sites, but they 
will not be able to inject the person because that is illegal,'' Van Beek said.

Traffic through the centre will be one way. This will avoid congestion, 
drug users mingling on the street and separate those arriving with drugs 
and those who have already had their hit.

``We didn't think mixing those people up would be a good idea, they would 
be in a different head space,'' Van Beek said, adding a survey of drug 
users also found they did not want to mix.

``They didn't want to open up their drugs in public with people they didn't 
know because they were worried about leaving the premises and being 
subjected to stand-over tactics.''

Bitter Opposition

Opposition to a heroin injecting centre in Australia has been long and 
bitter. Opponents have ranged from Australian Prime Minister John Howard 
and Pope John Paul II to the United Nations.

In 1999, the Pope sent a letter to the Sisters of Charity ordering them not 
to get involved in an injecting centre at the Cross. An illegal injecting 
room in a Uniting Church in the Cross in 1999 lasted only few days before 
police closed it down.

Today, illegal ``shooting galleries'' litter the main street of Kings Cross 
charging A$10 (US$5) to hit up in filthy conditions. But most addicts 
simply shoot-up in lanes, alleys and parks.

Van Beek said the centre would target street users, who have become more 
violent as they use cocaine and other drugs to combat a heroin drought, and 
who are most at risk of overdosing.

She estimates 150 to 200 drug users will pass through the centre in an 
eight-hour period. ``That should make a significant impact on public 
injecting,'' Van Beek said, adding she hoped the centre would eventually 
turn the tide against public injecting.
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