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Victorian Aboriginal health peak body backs state's drug reforms

Giovanni Torre -

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation welcomed the passage of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2023 on Thursday night.

The new law will make the North Richmond Safe Injection Room facility permanent and widen eligibility criteria to provide "vital lifesaving healthcare to vulnerable members of the community", VACCHO said.

The legislation passed parliament following a debate in the state parliament's upper house, with the Bill set to be sent to the governor for royal assent.

The proposed amendments to the Bill are based on recommendations of an independent review of the facility by renowned public health researcher John Ryan.

The 'Fatal overdose among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people Victoria 2018-2021 report' states a majority of the fatal overdoses amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were unintentional.

VACCHO Executive Director of Social and Emotional Wellbeing, Sheree Lowe, said this year's Coroners Court of Victoria report demonstrated that Aboriginal families in Victoria "continue to be severely impacted by addiction".

"The North Richmond initiative is one important part of a multifaceted services system to help manage the complex forms of trauma that lead to addiction. This service along with holistic supports are required to provide important life-saving support to community," she said.

VACCHO noted in a statement on Friday that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience fatal overdoses at a rate more than three times higher than non-Indigenous people.

"In 2023, the significant disparity between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people should not exist," the organisation said.

The North Richmond centre provides "life-saving healthcare for some of the most vulnerable, disadvantaged, and marginalised members of the community".

Since commencing in 2018, the trial at North Richmond has saved an estimated 63 lives and safely managed 6,000 overdoses. VACCHO strongly supports these vital public health measures that continue to save lives and reduce harm.

Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria Ken Lay AO has been appointed to lead an independent consultation and to provide advice on establishing a medically supervised injecting service trial in the City of Melbourne.

VACCHO has welcomed "the invitation to be part of this important consultation to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and perspectives are prominent and central to the way forward".

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