Wednesday 25 May 2011

Heroin - part II

Why did we a supervised injecting room in Kings Cross? The answers can be found in the 60-odd pages of the 1999 paper The NSW Drug Summit: Issues and Outcomes. It's actually worth reading - it's well put together and it has input from a wide range of characters.

I had a good laugh reading the first few pages, as they catalogued a series of knee jerk reactions from the government of the day to adverse media reports. I'm old enough to remember the following photo:

On 31 January 1999, a photograph of a teenage boy engaged in injecting drug use in a lane-way in Redfern, appeared on the front page of a Sydney newspaper.  This acted as the catalyst leading to the establishment of the Summit.   In the articles which accompanied this photograph the age of the boy was given as 12 or 13 (he was subsequently identified and his age confirmed as being 16 ), and it was asserted that the injecting equipment was obtained from a near-by needle exchange (a NSW Department of Health report into the incident later revealed that the boy did not obtain any injecting drug equipment from the near-by needle exchange outlet ).  
The then Minister for Health, Hon A Refshauge MP, reacted by immediately closing down the needle exchange outlet, and ordering a review of the $9 million statewide needle exchange program
Not long after that:

On 25 February a youth welfare group, Open Family, announced its intention to open rooms in its Cabramatta and Footscray offices for young heroin users to inject drugs.  Open Family’s plan was partially supported by Footscray’s local council, but met widespread condemnation from other drug welfare groups and the  local community.   In Sydney the Carr government condemned the plan as ‘irresponsible, dangerous and illegal’. 
We then had an election on 27 March 1999, with Labor (led by Bob Carr) romping home against a rather useless Coalition.

Bob then convened the Drug Summit between 17 May and 21 May 1999. It's interesting to look back at the actions of the government just prior to the election, and what it actually did after that election.

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