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“What people don’t realise is that we’re all redeemable. We might be junkies, but we’re all redeemable.” So says a user of Sydney’s medically supervised injecting centre (MSIC), talking to Virgin founder Richard Branson during his visit to the facility.




The entrepreneur is firmly in support of such centres, where heroin users can inject drugs more safely than they could on the streets or elsewhere. They are supported by substance misuse professionals who are on hand to provide clean syringes, dispose of dirty needles and offer information about potential treatment plans. Of course, they are also there to step in if the worst happens. 

Sydney’s MSIC was opened in the Kings Cross area of the city in 2001 on a trial basis; it became a permanent health service in 2010. And, according to the centre’s evaluations, it has been a huge success in dealing with the problem of drug use. 

In 2011, it had*:

Managed more than 4,400 overdoses without any fatalities
Reduced the number of publicly discarded needles and syringes in the Kings Cross area by approximately half
Decreased the amount of ambulance call-outs to Kings Cross by 80 per cent
Generated more than 9,500 referrals to health and social welfare services

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the world’s first MSIC opened in Berne in Switzerland in 1986. Today, there are 74 official facilities operating in six EMCDDA reporting countries, with 12 in Switzerland alone. 

While the United Kingdom has no such centres at present, there are plans to open an MSIC in Dublin, while talks are being held in Scotland to do the same. And, in Wales, officials are coming to the end of a six-month consultation into introducing a centre there. 

Ifor Glyn is regional director of Drugaid Cymru, Wales’s largest third sector harm reduction agency. He said: “There is a growing acceptance and evidence that providing safe and supervised injecting centres is a recognised harm reduction initiative that can lead to saving lives, encourage engagement with treatment services, and help reduce HIV and hepatitis C infections. They also address public concerns about discarded needles and public injecting.”

Drugaid Cymru has been leading a multi-agency steering group set up to investigate the prospect of introducing an MSIC in Wales. Members include leading figures from academia, public health and the Welsh Government. Delegates have visited the MSIC in Sydney, along with the Ana Liffey Drugs Project in Dublin which is close to opening Ireland’s first centre.

Ifor said: “While there might be a need for different models for different communities, there are a lot of commonalities, and much that can be learned from those who are established or moving toward being operational.”

He added: “It is hoped that the Welsh government’s delivery plan for 2016 to 2018 will reference the need to develop a case for a medically supervised injecting centre.”

*information from www.druginfo.adf.org.au/topics/supervised-injecting-facilities
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