Thursday, November 18, 2004

The inside story of the Injecting Centre

The Medically Supervised Injecting Centre at 66 Darlinghurst Road has not only rocked the boat locally but has made waves around the world. Now we can read the inside story of its first two years, and the extraordinary challenges dealt with by its dedicated staff.

'In The Eye of the Needle' by the centre's Medical Director, Dr Ingrid van Beek, is a blow-by-blow account based on her taped diaries, providing a very personal and highly detailed window on the hidden world of drug addicts and those who seek to help them.

The MSIC exists in a half-world defined by human foible on the one hand and unworkable prohibition laws on the other, a place where people can legally inject illegal drugs. It is a raging success measured by its enthusiastic adoption by the drug community, yet endures repeated attacks from its enemies in the press, in parliament, from troublemaking clients, the US-controlled International Narcotics Control Board and from some Kings Cross locals.

The book left me in no doubt that the Centre saves many lives. Hundreds of overdoses occurred and were headed off, usually by the administration of oxygen and only in rare cases by the use of Naloxone -- a problematic drug which, the book reveals, neutralises the effects of heroin and leaves addicts in a state of severe withdrawal and likely to go in search of another, even more dangerous hit.

Not that heroin is necessarily the major problem -- cocaine was the most common drug injected in the early days of the centre, far more dangerous and difficult to manage than heroin, and the mixture of other drugs with benzodiazapines such as valium and temazepam is the most common cause of overdose.

Constant battles with bureaucratic stupidity are well documented. I will be borrowing one succinct phrase from the book -- about one public servant who 'found solutions instead of erecting roadblocks'. Unfortunately the opposite is usually the case.

Ms van Beek lays to rest many of the issues which have erupted. The conclusion of the Evaluation Report that only four lives had been saved during the first 18 months is shown to be the result of an extremely strict definition of overdose which ignored all the oxygen-based treatments. Many of these, because help was immediately at hand, almost certainly headed off more serious overdoses which would have occurred if the user had been on the street or simply alone in a room.

The rubbish spouted by the likes of Major Brian Watters and Fred Nile is also debunked. Nile had the lives saved down to three, and Watters claimed that the centre had referred no clients to his Salvation Army rehab centres -- even as the centre was receiving a call from one of their clients who was in a Salvo rehab centre. Claims that the centre was way over budget were also untrue.

But the otherwise even-handed writing seems to go a little askew when it repeatedly names and attacks -- from page one -- Malcolm Duncan and the Kings Cross Chamber of Commerce which destroyed itself opposing the centre. Malcolm, who ironically opposes prohibition, seems to have gotten under Ingrid's skin.

True, the Chamber amplified some of the above myths but it also had valid concerns about the location of the centre. It is a fact that all centres dealing with highly marginalised people are not welcomed by the neighbours -- from needle exchanges to half-way prison houses to, at Ms van Beek's own admission, an injecting centre in Frankfurt which was located in an industrial area precisely to avoid such problems. Not only were the neighbours objecting, but a drug dealing scene had formed in the area.

I keep asking the question: why should the owner of the shop next to the centre, now untenanted for over two years, pay the price for our social conscience? I haven't had a satisfactory answer. I strongly support the centre, but if I wanted to open a main street business, I would probably choose another shop to rent especially if my life savings were at risk in the investment. And while by far the majority of Kings Cross locals support the centre, the further away from the centre they live or work, the greater the support. It's difficult to see how to resolve this conflict. Compensation might be the only way.

This well-written, revealing book is a must-read for Kings Cross locals and anyone interested in the drug scene, prohibition and policing. Published by Allen & Unwin, it's on sale now.


Anonymous said...

I absolutely support the Injecting Centre and it's function within the area.

No matter how many people twist and turn the statistics around to suit agenda, the evidence is visible to all that live in the area.

The number of street overdoses has dramatically changed since the centre was opened, which hopefully was the whole point of the facility.

I do sympathise with retailers that are concerned by the image issue but surely this is better than people overdosing on the street outside your business, which is what happened before.

Is there anyway that the entrance can be relocated so that patrons enter from the back ? I know this is only a compromise solution, but could it work ?

Anonymous said...

I absolutely support the Injecting Centre and it's function within the area. Before I use to have to find my dealer and then inject in a discrete location. Now I only have to stand outside the railway station entrance,
or on the corner of Bayswater Rd or Rosslyn St . Its now a question of demand and supply as the dealers are competing for hot trade and have managed to bring the price down.

The dealers quickly see me and the deal is done.I then proceed quickly to the MSIC were I am registered Sometimes the dealers come inside and we do the transaction there. It is very discrete and very quick.

No matter how many people twist and turn the statistics around to suit their agenda, the evidence is visible to all that live in the area. Ask the former Local Area Commander. He said the evidence was visible in the area at least 800 times a day. And look how quickly they got rid of him. We now own the streets and nothing will have us taken from the area.

"The number of street overdoses has dramatically changed since the centre was opened, which hopefully was the whole point of the facility". Actually is not quite correct . The heroin drought was the big factor in the drop and plenty of us shoot up in the back streets as well, ask the manager at the Crescent Hotel about all the needles we leave in their basement.

I do not sympathise with retailers who are concerned by the image issue by our ruling the streets. We never actually shot up in the main street that is MSIC bullshit. These capatalists suck anyhow. Too bad that they they are all going broke and no one wants to open up there. I am tired of getting asked to get out of their doorways, or having a chuck there. They don't care about us so why should should we care about them. Alice had a shit on the footpath outside the Crest and didn't everyone run. Not even the security guards would come near her cause last time she got a handful of shit and covered someone walking by who tried to stop her.

There is no way that the entrance should be relocated so that patrons enter from the back. I know this because the dealers are there as well and by congregating there could cause them to be caught by the cops. Anyhow the dealers come up the escalators from the station and go straight back to a train. Its so cool and whoever thought about putting opposite the station entrance was brilliant. It works so well. Its become a great meeting point for the people who live at Redfern to trade their smack up there as well. Like a rat up and down a drainpipe.

Inside the Crest bar is also a good place to trade as well as the TAB. Only problem is when the sniffer dogs are about to come in. We can easily have a spotter tell us they are on the way and we just slip int the train station next door.

Well thats not all I have got to say except that every time there is about to be a sweep of the street by the cops we all know. Isn't it great when you are in the know. You cannot ever clean up the Cross. And God knows why.

Anonymous said...

Almost great satire, that last comment. Total bullshit, but not a bad attempt . Doesn't quite get into the mind and the syntax of a genuine user. Deserves a place in some strange corner of history, though, and obviously heartfelt.

Anonymous said...

More like a strange corner of histrionics, I'd say.

Anonymous said...

Hmm.......................there is a drought according to Mr Carr. Sure works wonders for street injecting in the Cross.


Crime down and NSW safer, says Carr
November 22, 2004 - 2:02PM

Premier Bob Carr today declared NSW a safer place to live in than two years ago, saying the latest statistics showed crime rates had either fallen or remained stable over the past 24 months.

The quarterly report of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research said break and enters, fraud, assault and car theft were among the crime categories that had fallen across NSW in the 24 months to September 24.

Murder, sexual assault, malicious damage to property and robbery with a firearm had remained stable.

"The crime figures confirm that NSW is simply a safer place," Mr Carr told reporters today.

"Crime is being driven down."

Police Minister John Watkins put the results down to having more police on the streets and the targeting of repeat offenders.

The heroin drought also may have fed into a reduction in crime, he said.

"It's clear that the reduced amount of heroin that's available on the streets ... is a factor because we know that use of heroin has a trigger effect to other offences," Mr Watkins said.

He highlighted a substantial reduction in break and enters.

In Sydney, less homes were broken into in 11 of the 14 statistical areas.

Police Commissioner Ken Moroney said increased use of DNA analysis by police forensic teams also had contributed to the falling crime rates.

The figures meant there were almost 50,000 less victims of crime in NSW as two years ago, he said.

"If I can translate the statistics into a figure that I believe the community might equally understand it's interesting to note that there are some 45,000 less victims of crime at this time than there were some two years ago," Mr Moroney said.

NSW Opposition police spokesman Peter Debnam said Mr Carr was selectively highlighting only a small number of the state's 62 crime categories.

``The Premier's crowing about 12 categories of crime,'' he said.
``There's actually 62 categories of crime reported in NSW.''

He said the categories that were down related mainly to property crime - a result of the heroin shortage.

``What we're not seeing a drop in is robbery offences with a firearm, malicious damage,'' he said.

``We're not seeing a drop in youth crime and anti-social behaviour - that's the category that's driving communities insane across the state.''

Anonymous said...


Doctors face random breath tests

By Julie Robotham and Michael Pelly
November 20, 2004

There is growing concern over how much responsibility the professions should take for addiction problems among their members.

Random alcohol and drug testing of doctors and nurses is being considered by the NSW Health Department amid fears that many substance-abusing health workers are putting patients at risk.

It coincides with growing concern among professional groups about how much responsibility they should take for addiction problems among their members, following the scandal of Jeff Shaw, the judge who quit in disgrace and who was charged yesterday with high-range drink driving.

The 18 cases of drug-abusing doctors referred to the NSW Medical Board's rehabilitation programs last year represented only a tiny fraction of those likely to be using narcotics or excessive alcohol, according to Alison Reid, the board's medical director.

Dr Reid is a member of a committee investigating the problem and which will advise whether random testing should proceed. It was convened last November after an anaesthetist, Gerrit Reimers, was struck off the medical register for 10 years for taking medicines prescribed for his patients.

The Australian Medical Association is opposed, saying that random testing would be impractical to implement and that the punitive approach could dissuade doctors from owning up.

However, Allan Spigelman, the professor of surgical science at the University of Newcastle, said the current provisions "should be strengthened ... we don't have a God-given right to practise".

He criticised the make-up of the committee - of which he is a member - because it included doctors' and nurses' representatives but no patient groups.

"The ultimate decision should not be made by the stakeholders; it should be made by the Government taking advice."

The president of the AMA's NSW branch, John Gullotta, said doctors should be tested only if a problem was suspected. "Anything mandatory we'd have to be cautious about," said Dr Gullotta, also a committee member. "Doctors have a duty of care and they have to be sober, obviously."

But the AMA was concerned doctors might fail drug tests when they were taking medicines for legitimate reasons. Dr Gullotta praised the current state system for dealing with doctors impaired by drugs or alcohol, Continued Page 6

Anonymous said...

"Doesn't quite get into the mind and the syntax of a genuine user"

Could be a doctor.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Mr Carr taking account of theft also includes the huge amount of theft from public hospitals by the medical profession. A cause of considerable concern by the external auditors for the public hospital.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how much the Injecting Centre operators in Kings Cross gets paid by Bob Carr to run their "business"? I have heard that it is in the millions of dollars. However the only figures so far revealed are the running costs of their “business” and not the monies paid to them to run their “business”.

“Business” is the word their boss the cleric uses.

The Editor said...

From SMH article above: "It's clear that the reduced amount of heroin that's available on the streets ... is a factor because we know that use of heroin has a trigger effect to other offences," Mr Watkins said.

He highlighted a substantial reduction in break and enters."

Logically, then, Mr Watkins should support the repeal of prohibition -- if he cares about all the innocent victims of break-ins which his police don't even investigate. Victims of such crime should lobby against prohibition.

But if drugs were legalised, regulated, rationed and taxed, the police, jail, security and arms industries would suffer, so I guess we are stuck with the pain.

Anonymous said...

If the injecting place is such a great idea how come there are dozens of needles just 50 meters away in the street and on garbage bins in Kellett lane and Mansion lane every week? One property owner has plenty of video to back it up.

Maybe there should be an injecting centre in the Crescent carpark basement, Kellett lane and Mansion Lane. Sort of convenience store for junkies. Lets call it 24-7 daze and blight.

The Editor said...

Possibly because the centre is only open half the day? Or because some users don't take advantage of the facilities? Or because some violent clients are barred? or because heroin is prohibited therefore unregulated? Or because the Vatican stopped the Sisters of Charity (St Vincents Hospital) from running the centre (George Pell is suspected to be behind that, and Fred Nile wrote to the Pope about it. Why don't they get any flak?).

Anonymous said...

The injecting centre is owned and managed by a property trust. Does any one know who the beneficiaries of the property trust are?

Also it would be interesting to know how much income tax is paid by the beneficiaries ?

Why cannot theses financials be up front and open. All these murky hidden deals leave a rotten smell in the public domain

Anonymous said...

Stop blaming the Injecting Centre for the problems in the Cross. The drug users and dealers were here long before there ever was an Injecting Centre. And there were also shooting galleries, at caring and hygienic places such as Porkies.

Why would legitimate and responsible businesses want to open on The Strip? It is totally dominated by 5 strip clubs/brothels, and the anti-social thugs they use as touts.

It is not possible to walk along Darlinghurst Rd between the Roslyn St and Bayswater Rd, without being blasted by loud music from their doorways, and harassed by their aggressive and repugnant spruikers.

These 'businesses' offer no benefit to local residents and destroy the amenity of the area. Worse still, they prey upon young drug-addicted girls. Maybe the dealers come to the Cross, because their users are sex workers?

Nothing will improve until there are some genuine controls to curb the excesses of these strip clubs.

Anonymous said...

The Injecting Centre is not the cause of the problems of the Cross. Rotten town planning from corrupt councils which permitted the clustering of anti social type economic activities such as crap strip clubs,pinball parlors, sex shops and brothels.

The injecting centre is just the scum at the top trying to cash in on the problem. It is just a Church run activity which pretends to care whilst it waits to get its handout from the NSW Government.

Add to this a corrupt police force and a hopeless local member on Parliament and a Premier who is not interested and you have a major social problem.

And please dear editor not another sermon about prohibition. I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Oh and by the way with 140 police stationed in Kings Cross and a major drug problem in the area . You have to ask why!

The Editor said...

Sermon? Moi?

And could commenters please avoid gratuitous insults like 'scum' in comments. For one thing, I might get sued, and for another, we are supposed to show what civilised human beings we are by being polite. I don't want to start censoring comments (now I have worked out how to trash them). That's against my principles!

And I seriously doubt that our police are corrupt. I have seen or heard NO evidence of it, and none has been offered by their few accusers.

PS Many of us actually like the edgy, seedy nature of the Cross -- it goes with a lot of other things that make it the ONLY place to live in Sydney. Every sink needs an 'S' bend, every pressure cooker needs an escape valve. That's the essential role of the Cross in this big city. Let's not forget its problems are the problems of suburbia writ large. One hopes and works for improvement rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


Anonymous said...

As a worker in the Alcohol and other drug (AOD) field, I get really tired of reading crude oversimplifications from people with no expertise in the area, about how to assist fellow human beings affected by addiction to alcohol or other drugs. How constructive are claims that the MSIC exists just to collect government handouts? I have heard similar comments, like: So what if the MSIC saves lives, what sort of life is it anyway? Are we really saying that death may be the better option? This is dangerous thinking and ignores the reality that what we are dealing with is the life of someone else's child, or parent, brother or sister. This issue is not quite the same as not wanting a shop next to the MSIC now, is it?

Anonymous said...

Would Mr Duncan write a book about the phony community consultation organized by the Church and Ms moore to select a location for the MSIC "we had to have"?

If ever there was a stoty of community lies and deception. What was really amazing when certain locals from the Uniting Church challenged some of the statements made by the zelots from the church about their organization. Their bible references to have this facility on the street was a real eye opener.
Where did trhese zelots come from and what century?

Anonymous said...

One of the bible bashing zelots is probably from the 13th Century.

After one "community consultation" meeting he rushed up from the lectern to one cafe owner and demanded " what country are you from "

Yep - small minded provincial zelot invades Cross to hand around the collection plate to which the NSW Government dumps fistfull of $100 notes.

Malcolm -- please PLEASE publish all the facts. These lying dogs are so afraid of you they will do anything to discredit you.

The Editor said...

Pah-lease, be polite. 'Lying dogs' rates along with 'running capitalist dogs' for clich├ęd lack of meaning. Dogs don't lie! Stick to the facts -- they should be sufficient, if you have a good case. Editor wags his finger in admonishment. Besides, we like dogs.

Anonymous said...

Zealot not zelot