In Sydney’s Kings Cross, overdoses are almost non-existent, needles have vanished, and patient visits are the lowest they’ve ever been. It’s time to relocate the Medically Supervised Drug Injection Centre.
Just last week, the New South Wales Health Department dismissed calls for a new MSIC in NSW’s west. But NSW doesn’t need another one. The NSW government needs to relocate the operating injection centre in Kings Cross. Where though? To where it’s most needed and better utilised for other drug menacing hot spots in NSW.
Since the controversial lock-out laws were implemented, Kings Cross within Potts Point has changed significantly in the last four years. The government has left the Cross half finished. It’s cleaned up sin and alcohol violence but hasn’t dealt with a rarely used MSIC and redevelopment.
To describe Kings Cross now, it’s no longer ground zero for strip joints, booze, sex and drugs. Now, only one strip club remains and according to a journal that should know, The Daily Telegraph, less than five brothels. It’s more than a “state of mind” as many locals phrase it and is now the cosmopolitan destination of cafes, restaurants, bars, property developers, DINKS and residents. Even the old Sugarmill Hotel has changed its name to the poshly styled Potts Point Hotel.
Within the vicinity intersection of Kings Cross holds the medically supervised injection centre, across from the train station and in addition there’s been several building redevelopments that encroach it and now house families, singles and weekenders since the lockout laws were enforced. Almost all shops around the centre are up for lease and have been for some time.
It’s the end of an era.
In a rapidly changing inner-city suburb, if most of the wild nightlife and sin is being thrown out – why is it ok to keep the drug injection centre? Why hasn’t it moved to where the problem is?
Residents and businesses that I have spoken with have said between 1996 to 2001 until the MSIC opened, heroin users sprawled out into streets – crashed and overdosed in building entrances and some sadly died, and thousands of needles were littered throughout the suburb. It was a crisis in the community. Under pressure to act, the Carr government undertook a MSIC trial after a drug summit in 1999, revealing 10 per cent of heroin users in Australia were located in and around Kings Cross. Not long after, the Howard government’s refreshed policies to prevent the availability of heroin in 2001 saw a massive reduction in use.
To understand why the MSIC exists at all is to understand the facts at the time. In 1998 737 people died from a heroin overdose in Sydney, 63 in Kings Cross. In 2011 the NSW Department of Health commissioned KPMG report into the MSIC revealed heroin deaths were down to sixty-seven, six in Kings Cross and 61 across NSW, slightly more than the entire death rate in Kings Cross in 1998, a stark difference.
Seven years on, it’s time for a new review into a relocation and long-term commitment drug programme to help drug users break their addictions.
There are key factors where the facts provide a strong deduction for a review and relocation. These factors are: the drug category, drug usage, where addicts inject, drug paraphernalia and gentrification.
In 2018, prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines or oxycodone are the common drug used; result in more deaths than heroin, ice and other recreational substances such as alcohol etc. According to the KPMG report figures between 2001 to 2011; drug injection on the whole, across NSW, has significantly decreased for heroin use, however over that period drug addicts still preferred to inject in their own homes with eight other places in the findings, “shooting rooms” are where addicts least prefer to inject.
Drug addicts with needles injecting themselves across the key areas surrounding Kings Cross MSIC have also significantly decreased and the Needle Clean Up Service centre statistics in the KPMG report reveal a massive reduction in needle collection in all surrounding suburbs.
The final factor is the local economy. Residential development adding more and more families into the neighbourhood and the lockout laws amplification effect on gentrification. Kings Cross is now home to more residents adjacent to MSIC front and back entrances, where users exit and sometimes sit and disrupt passers-by onto a now residential and café and restaurant street. All shops next to the MSIC are empty and up for lease.
New reports suggest Liverpool, Penrith and Tamworth are problem locations. Problem places need to be identified and the government should implement a strategy and objective to tackle the new drug paradigm, methamphetamines, in these hotspots. The strategy should build an objective to identify key metro and rural drug injecting hotspots across the state and redirect funding for an MSIC in a central location in Sydney’s west with practical programmes to help addicts with their addictions.
Residents including former supporters and businesses that I have spoken to feel uneasy about the lingering centre. The proponents of the MSIC centre, such as Independent MP Alex Greenwich, Lord Mayor Clover Moore, the Uniting Church (which runs the centre), the Greens and the ABC continue to claim it has the community support but the last time the community had a say was in a survey compiled in 2010.
I understand many supporters of the centre are also grappling with what’s gone in “The Cross” and additionally have a genuine care for those that are afflicted by their addictions, but the Cross is likely never going to be what it once was. We must accept this. Like in life, we must embrace and shape what’s to come. If the Kings Cross MSIC is as successful as the medical community, the ABC and independent pollies will have you believe – then why not relocate it to Liverpool or Penrith where able users are able to travel to and get help?
Drug injecting rooms are about validating an often sad, complex and problematic lifestyle by allowing addicts to use heroin, opioids and now ice and monitoring addicts while they inject, albeit safely.
This does absolutely nothing to change the psychological problem behind addiction. It only encourages addiction and repeat usage in an area that really no longer has a problem with heroin and risks the ongoing safety of tourists, visitors, businesses, children and families as the area continues to gentrify. Simply, the rejuvenated community of Kings Cross and drug injection centre no longer fit. Move it now to help users in Sydney’s west break their habit.
Carrington Brigham is a President of the Liberal Party’s Sydney local government conference and was digital communications adviser on the Liberal Party’s 2013 election campaign.
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