Community activists are gearing up to fight plans to create a $1.7 million fenced-off garden area in front of a controversial injecting room that they say will become a haven for drug users and dealers.
Melbourne has the highest level of heroin, ketamine and fentanyl consumption of any Australian capital city, the latest wastewater data from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission shows.
Since it opened in 2018, the Medically Supervised drug Injecting Room (MSIR) in the inner city eastern suburb of Richmond on Lennox St has been a magnet for controversy, especially as it is located across the road from a primary school.
The room’s defenders, including Premier Dan Andrews, point to review findings that said it had ‘successfully managed almost 6,000 overdoses’ since it opened in June 2018 and had saved 63 lives, with no one dying in the centre.
However some locals say near uncontrolled and open drug use has spilled into the suburban surrounds, leading to a menacing, unpredictable and squalid environment littered with drug paraphernalia, and turned the area into a ‘zombie land’.
Locals have hit out at the proposal to build a gated garden in front of the Richmond Medically Supervised Injecting Room (pictured a scene from Richmond)
Richmond local Sharon Neven, 58, said building a gated garden area at the front of the injecting room would only issue more of an invitation to dealers and drug users to congregate there in an area notorious for open injecting and trafficking.
She shared photos with Daily Mail Australia of the area surrounding the drug injecting room that she claims he had taken between July and September.
‘It is just going to provide a place for junkies to deal, to use to have sex to do all sorts of things behind a fence,’ Ms Neven told Daily Mail Australia on Wednesday.
‘It’s happening because we are constantly complaining about the open injecting that people do against the room’s front door, against the wall, down the side.
‘So they have thought instead of, well, fixing the problem ‘let’s just hide them behind a big fence’.
‘By putting up a fence and shelter and seating it actually provides a nice place for them to hang out.’
The $1.7million project will put a gate fence around the injecting room, which sits next to a building offering general and maternal health services
‘They just don’t get it, they don’t listen. People are going to use outside and perhaps overdose.’
Ms Neven said a friend who lives opposite the injecting room is ‘absolutely terrified’ by the proposal.
‘She already experiences horrific stuff on a daily basis – people injecting or defecating near her front door,’ Ms Neven said.
Ms Neven was also worried that fenced area would be a no-go zone from police, who already make it their practice not to arrest people for drug possession in the immediate vicinity of the MSIR.
Ms Neven said there had been recent two stabbings in the Richmond area, one fatal, ‘by known users’ of the injecting room.
The project has been approved by the North Richmond Community Health, which runs both the MSIR as well as general health and maternity centres in an adjecent building, the City of Yarra council and the Victorian government.
Locals say that open injecting and selling of drugs is rife around Melbourne’s Richmond area
Police apprehend a subject in the Richmond area where locals say they fear a ‘no go zone’ around the injecting room
Construction on the new garden area and a new diagonal footpath to the front door of the health clinics to replace a path that runs parallel to the injecting room will begin in next February and is expected to be completed by June.
She claimed all the new proposal would do was ‘welcome violent and aggressive drug users to stay stay all day, stay all night’.
‘They see this wonderful vision and what we see is reality – it is going to be grafitiied, pissed upon,’ she said.
Ms Neven also claimed there had been no chance for locals to comment on the proposal until it leaked out in August’.
A man lies on a footpath near the controversial injecting room in Melbourne’s inner city suburb of Richmond
‘No one in the community ever heard of it,’ she claimed despite the North Richmond Community Health website stating there was ‘community and stakeholder consultation on the draft plans’ in July and August of 2022 .
A spokesperson for the service told Daily Mail Australia on Thursday that the proposal was a ‘response to community feedback which highlighted a desire to improve the grounds surrounding the facility, and to improve the health and wellness outcomes for the community.’
‘Based on those initial engagements, our design team drafted plans that improved the landscaping and facilities surrounding NRCH’s buildings and increased our ability to provide care, support and services for clients and community in an enhanced outdoor space,’ a spokesperson said.
A local says that drug use has terrified people living close to the Richmond’s Medically Supervised Injecting Room
The spokesperson said the draft masterplan was presented for feedback ‘through several community and stakeholder consultation activities in 2022’ and those ‘activities were advertised widely’ and were ‘well attended’.
Ms Neven is organsing flyers opposing the fended garden to be distributed in the Richmond area.
A draft of the flyer state the ‘real reason for the wall’ is ‘hiding the constant public injecting and high risk behaviours that NRCH don’t try to control’.
A draft of a flyer that is going to Richmond residents urging them to oppose the fenced garden
The flyer urges residents to urgently email North Richmond Community Health to object to the project.
An annual report by public health research group Penington Institute published last month shows there were 2231 drug-induced deaths reported in Australia in 2021, amounting to one death every four hours.
Of those, 1675 were unintentional.
‘The annual number of unintentional drug-induced deaths surpassed the road toll in 2014,’ reads the 244-page report published on Sunday.
‘The gap between the two has continued to widen ever since.’
Seven out of 10 unintentional drug overdose deaths in 2021 were men and Indigenous Australians were almost four times more likely to die under those circumstances than non-Indigenous Australians.
The most common drug found in people’s systems was opioids, contributing to 45.7 per cent of overdose deaths in 2021.
Opioids, which are prescribed as pain relief but are often linked to addiction and abuse, were found in 81 per cent of deaths involving multiple substances.
Deaths linked to the synthetic opioid fentanyl were cited by the report as a major cause for concern after skyrocketing by more than 800 per cent since 2001.
Richmond resident Sharon Neven, who has lived in the area for 23 years, is fighting the proposed injecting room garden area
The global opioids crisis has coincided with drug overdose death rates increasing across all Australian age brackets above 30 over the past 20 years, especially among 50 to 59-year-olds (298 per cent).
Despite Australia’s population only growing by 33 per cent in that time span, unintentional drug deaths have risen by 71 per cent.
The institute started producing the annual overdose report eight years ago to drive change, but its chief executive John Ryan said the response has been wholly inadequate compared to the scale of the problem.
‘The time to address this national crisis is now,’ he said.
‘We already have the tools and know-how to reduce overdose deaths – we just need to do it by implementing evidence-based solutions, supporting access to treatment, and closing the gap in overdose death rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.’
Drug overdose death numbers from 2021 are likely to rise further as the data is revised and finalised in coming years.