Dumping of second city injection room 'will cost lives'

Health professionals have slammed the Victorian government's decision not to push ahead with a supervised drug injecting room in Melbourne's CBD, saying people will die as a result.

But the business community and police union say it's in the interest of the majority of people.

A report from former police commissioner Ken Lay recommended an injecting facility with four to six booths be built in the CBD, citing the death of one drug injector a month in the city.

The government previously backed the idea, but Premier Jacinta Allan said a location that struck the right balance between helping users and support from locals could not be found.

Her government is instead opting to provide more medical interventions.

"We are unwilling to spend more time when we have the opportunity to take action now on strengthening supports, strengthening interventions, supporting people with addiction challenges," Ms Allan told reporters on Tuesday.

"That is why a second injecting service in the CBD is not our plan and it won't be proceeding."

The government will instead spend $95 million on health programs including $36.4 million to establish a new community health hub on Flinders Street and $21.3 million to increase community outreach teams.

It  includes more support services in the city, addiction treatments at facilities across the state and a trial of hydromorphone medication for the seriously addicted.

In 2022, 549 Victorians died from drug overdoses and more than one in 10 fatal heroin overdoses occurred in the City of Melbourne.

Salvation Army Commanding Officer Brendan Nottle and Cohealth addiction medicine specialist Paul McCartney both work with addicts and had mixed emotions on hearing the news.

"We're advocating evidence based solutions, (Cohealth will) continue to advocate that supervised injection room be part of the suite of treatments available in Victoria," Dr McCartney said.

Ken Lay speaks to media at the State Control Centre, Melbourne
Report author Ken Lay recommended an injecting facility with four to six booths in the CBD. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

First Steps chief executive Patrick Lawrence said he was sad and concerned users would gather at the new Flinders Street hub before going outside onto CBD streets to inject drugs.

"There is absolutely, no question, it will cost lives," Mr Lawrence said.

Victorian Ambulance Union secretary Danny Hill said the existing injecting room in North Richmond had dealt with 6000 overdoses, equivalent to services provided by one ambulance station.

However, Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said it would have been unwise to establish a new injecting facility.

"This is a pragmatic decision and one that is in the interests of a vast majority of residents, traders and visitors to the city," Mr Gatt said.

Business leaders welcomed the move and city traders never wanted the facility, according to Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra.

Australian Hotels Association vice-president Mark O'Reilly also threw his support behind the decision, hoping it would encourage people to come into the city.

The government received the report, which cost $270,000 to compile, in May 2023 and it was made public on Tuesday.

In it, Mr Lay said there was widespread acknowledgement the city had a significant injecting drug problem but there were "mixed views" on what the policy and community response should be.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan speaks outside state parliament
Premier Jacinta Allan said the government had spent a lot of time trying to find a site. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

Fifty-two per cent of respondents surveyed said there was no need for a supervised injecting service in the city, while 40 per cent said there was such a need.

It identified several key hotspots for users, including three at intersections along Elizabeth Street and two others along Swanston Street.

The Victorian opposition never supported building more injecting rooms and leader John Pesutto hit out at what he described as a backflip from the government, claiming its new health strategy was "half baked".

New Victorian Greens leader Ellen Sandell said it was a "cowardly decision" and accused the government of backtracking on progressive reforms.

Melbourne's first injecting room opened in North Richmond on a trial basis in 2018 and was made permanent in 2023 after a review found it saved 63 lives.