Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2010

About this Item
SpeakersFraser Mr Andrew; Richardson Mr Michael
BusinessBill, Agreement in Principle

Page: 26564

Agreement in Principle

[Business resumed.]

Mr ANDREW FRASER (Coffs Harbour) [11.13 a.m.]: I will not be supporting the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2010 for a number of reasons that I will detail in a moment. However, it does not mean that I do not support the staff of the Kings Cross injecting centre o the great job they do. Lives have probably been saved because the centre is there. About 10 days ago my wife and I went to Sherwood Glen, which is in the electorate of the member for Clarence, Steve Cansdell. Sherwood Cliffs and Sherwood Glen, which is yet to be opened, are drug rehabilitation centres. The centres' leading lights are John Pierre Reifler and his wife, Honi. They do a fantastic job.

In fact, their success rate in rehabilitating hard drug users is over 70 per cent. The sad part is that they cannot accept government money. Why? The moment they accept any money from the State or Federal governments they will be instructed how to run their programs. It has been proved in the past that rehabilitation programs run by the Government probably rely more on methadone than on drying people out, giving them the love and care they need and putting them back into society. I do not claim that methadone clinics have not done that, but people on methadone are pretty well reliant on those programs for the rest of their lives. In fact, methadone is more addictive than heroin.

Sherwood Cliffs provides rehabilitation services to eight single men and two married couples. The new centre, which hopefully will open in January, will be able to cater for 14 women or seven women with children. The care, love and consideration that addicted persons receive at those centres is second to none. Interestingly, every time you go there you meet rehabilitated drug users. I chatted with one the other day—I will not name her—about the injecting centre at Kings Cross. That lass told me that when she was in Sydney—and she still knows people in Sydney who use drugs—people would use the injecting centre to a fairly major extent to experiment with new drugs. If people have something new that someone has recommended they will go to the centre to try it, knowing that they will receive great medical care if the drug has an adverse effect. In her words, once they realise it is safe—and I use the word "safe" advisedly—the vast majority tend not to return to the centre and inject at home.

I commend the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Epping and the member for Vaucluse for their well-researched contributions to the debate. Referrals from the injecting room to detoxification centres are minuscule compared with the number of people who use drugs. I understand that people cannot get off drugs—I was addicted to cigarettes for many years so I know it is damned hard for anyone to get off drugs, even more so opiates or heroin—but there is a huge hypocrisy in the legislation. People are referred to detoxification and rehabilitation through drug courts, yet there is no compulsory referral from the injecting centre. That concerns me. Police have discretion in relation to small amounts of heroin. I have a unit at Potts Point and I often walk past the injecting centre. I see those who gather around the centre and observe deals being done. The dealers are smart enough to carry only small amounts of heroin, and the police obviously use their discretion. In the lead-up to this debate I noted that someone was charged, which I think has a political stench to it. But the reality is that discretion is exercised in Kings Cross, but not in the electorate of Coffs Harbour or in other areas of New South Wales.

I support the member for Vaucluse, who referred to the hypocrisy of Labor members who have come into the Chamber, one after the other, to support the legislation but who have not put their hands up and said, "We'll have one of these in our electorates". We all know what has happened in the past—and probably still does—when a new methadone clinic is mooted for a country town. The covers come off and there is huge angst in community at the idea of just a methadone clinic. No-one wants an injecting centre in their electorate. The headline in today's Coffs Harbour Advocate is "Needle Anger". The sub-headline reads, "Community demands authorities rethink sharps bins locations". Members have only to walk 20 paces from this Chamber and they will find a male toilet with a sharps bin, and I guess the female toilet is the same. But if anyone lights up a cigarette in those toilets they will be charged under law for smoking on premises where cigarette smoking is banned. I understand that the sharps bin could be utilised by people who are diabetic, but a sharps bin basically gives an indication that heroin use in this building is okay.

The four-year-old child referred to in the newspaper article suffered a needlestick injury in Coffs Harbour the other day. Where did he get it? He got the needlestick injury at a preschool playground because someone had failed to properly dispose of a heroin injecting needle at the playground. Once again, if someone lights up a cigarette at a preschool playground the full force of the law will be visited upon them, but if someone injects heroin and does not dispose of the needle properly in the sharps bin that is provided at the playground, the weight of the law does not come down on them. That really is rank hypocrisy. On the one hand, we are discouraging people from smoking and talking about the cost of medical care; but, on the other hand, we say nothing about the cost of medical care for people who have an addiction to drugs.

During the debate in this House when the injecting room was originally proposed it was mentioned that the cost of methadone clinics, including pathology, was absolutely huge. It would equate to the costs of smoking across the board. The hypocrisy around this issue is unbelievable. Drug use in the Coffs Harbour electorate is probably among the highest in the State, not just marijuana but also harder drugs—be they opiates, heroin or what have you. I do not believe we are doing enough in the way of rehabilitation. I would much rather see the budget that is being expended on the injecting room be given to people like John and Honi Reifler for the great work they do. Their success rate is better than 70 per cent. They put these people back into society and monitor them. Their success rate is between 70 per cent and 80 per cent, although some people who are cured come back later for further treatment. I think with every addiction, be it alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, there will be those who need to return for further treatment. John and Honi's work is a shining light in this area yet they cannot get government funding because of the restrictions placed on it and because bureaucrats do not agree with what they do.

Whilst I commend the staff at the injecting centre for their work I do not believe the money is being spent in the right way. I commend them for the great job they do and the lives they have saved, but I would much rather see money spent on rehabilitation. I would much rather a message be sent that drug use, especially intravenous drug use, is dangerous. If we did that perhaps we would have fewer headlines such as "Needle Anger" and fewer stories such as the one about the four-year-old who was spiked with a discarded needle at a playground where there was a sharps bin. That just blows me away. It is a case of extremes—there is a sharps bin but not an ashtray. That is just bizarre. I cannot support the legislation. As the Leader of the Opposition said today, the bill has been rushed into Parliament 12 months before it was required, and one must look at the Government's motives for doing that. Why have we not had an opportunity to properly assess all the reports on the centre? Why is it so imperative that we pass this legislation in the last weeks of the parliamentary session under this dying Government? Why are we not looking at much better programs that would not only discourage drug use but also rehabilitate those people who are addicts?

Mr MICHAEL RICHARDSON (Castle Hill) [11.24 a.m.]: The Drug Misuse and Trafficking Amendment (Medically Supervised Injecting Centre) Bill 2010 is aptly named because it is all about drug misuse being aided and abetted by the State of New South Wales. That has always been an extraordinary proposition. Statistics can be made to do anything you wish, and that was certainly the case with the statistics presented by the Deputy Premier in her agreement in principle speech. She was highly selective in what she quoted and in the emphasis she placed on those statistics. She said that since the centre opened in May 2001 there had been 609,177 visits by 12,050 registered clients, with 3,426 drug overdoses successfully managed and 3,871 referrals to drug dependence treatment. The numbers sound impressive until you analyse exactly what they mean and relate them to statistics for injecting drug users elsewhere in the State.

For starters, the rate of overdoses among heroin users across Australia is two for every 10,000 injections. The rate at the injecting room is 56.2—that is, 28 times the average across the country. That is consistent with the Drug Free Australia analysis in the 2003 evaluation of the centre, which found the rate of overdoses inside the centre was 36 times that outside the centre in the streets of Kings Cross. The reason is pretty simple to work out. Drug users are going to the centre and experimenting, using higher quantities of heroin or polydrugs, knowing that if they overdose the staff will revive them. The injecting room is actually encouraging unsafe drug-taking practices in my view, and that is something everyone in this Chamber should abhor.

Of course, heroin is far from being the only drug injected at the centre. In fact, according to some statistics I have, it accounts for only 27 per cent of injections at the injecting room. Drug addicts are in fact shooting up prescription opioids such as oxycodone, better known as OxyContin, twice as often as they are injecting heroin. The statistics are very interesting. According to information I have for the injecting room, in the three months between 1 February and 30 April 2010, there were 4,480 injections of heroin, 1,061 injections of cocaine, 602 instances of benzodiazepines injections, 325 injections of amphetamines and 104 instances of heroin/cocaine combination injections, but injections of other opioids, primarily prescription drugs, totalled 9,193.

That is consistent with something that happened to me last year. Members will be aware that I was involved in a very nasty motor vehicle accident. When I was discharged from Nepean Hospital I was given some MS Contin to take home to relieve the pain. A week later I went to the Mater Hospital to have my shoulder operated on and I woke up the next day having some difficulty breathing. A physician was called in to examine me and found one of the problems was that the MS Contin was suppressing my breathing reflex. That was one reason why I was having difficulty breathing. The physician said, "We're going to take you off those tablets and put you onto something else." I asked, "What should I do with the MS Contin tablets? He replied, "You can flush them down the toilet or you could take them up the Cross. You'll get a good price for them up there." It seemed funny at the time, but I think it is very relevant in the context of the bill we are debating now. The fact is that I could have taken those tablets to the Cross, sold them and got a good price because there are plenty of addicts there who will buy them, knowing they can go to the injecting room and inject them "safely".

One of the riskiest substances addicts inject is methamphetamine, or ice, which we know can create psychotic episodes. I cannot understand why any government would want to be encouraging people to shoot a dangerous drug like this into their veins. A former director of the injecting room, Dr Ingrid van Beek, said in an article in the Daily Telegraph on 10 September 2006:
      Ice changes people's behaviour in such a dramatic way and can be quite scary. People become incredibly strong and quite aggressive, and that's what makes the impact of this drug greater.
Long-term ice abuse can cause addiction, anxiety, insomnia, mood disturbances, violent behaviour and psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, hallucinations and delusions, such as the sensation of bugs calling under the user's skin. Ice addicts may lose their teeth abnormally quickly—a condition known as meth mouth. One-third of Australia's ice users are addicted, and the psychotic symptoms can last for months or years after methamphetamine use has ceased. We know it is a significant contributor to violent crime. I understand there have been attacks on the staff at the injecting room by people who have injected ice into their veins. I cannot understand why this State would be encouraging that. The injecting room has not saved lives. The Daily Telegraph published an article to that effect on 5 January last year, entitled "Kings Cross Injecting Room fails to reduce overdose death rates". The article said:
      The Kings Cross safe injecting centre made no difference at all to overdose death rates in its local area in its first five years of operation. Statistics show death rates from drug overdose in the area around the injecting room are no less than in other areas across NSW.

      Between the period May 1, 2001 and May 1, 2006, deaths fell from an average four a month to one a month in the two post codes adjacent to the injecting centre. But elsewhere in the state there were also sharp falls—from an average 28 deaths a month to eight.

      The centre's lack of success in saving lives clashes with its stated primary objective "to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with drug overdoses".
I certainly believe that is the case. The number of referrals from the centre for treatment, 3,871, sounds good. The Minister said:

      The centre has been increasingly successful in getting a marginalised group of injecting drug users to treatment.
But what does this number of referrals represent? It is just 0.6 per cent of total visits to the centre—that is, 6 in 1,000 visits to the centre result in a referral. And there is no mention whatsoever of whether or not the drug users went for treatment, or indeed how successful that treatment was. That 0.6 per cent referral rate, until now, is in fact lower than the 0.7 per cent referral rate for drug treatment achieved up to 2007. So the centre is actually becoming less, rather than more, effective at treating people for their addiction. And in 2007 only one-third of those referred for treatment were actually referred to a rehabilitation program. So we are talking about 0.2 per cent of visits—that is, 1 in 5,000—resulting in the drug user going into rehabilitation. That is a pathetic figure. Frankly, I am amazed at the gall of the Deputy Premier in describing the centre as "successful" in this regard.

When he introduced the bill that established the injecting room in 2001 the then Special Minister of State, John Della Bosca, said it would provide a gateway for referral to treatment and counselling. This morning we heard the Leader of the Opposition speak about that objective of the centre. Clearly, the centre has failed abysmally in that regard, and we now have 9½ years of statistics to prove that. It costs around $3 million a year to run the centre—enough to fund 400 rehabilitation places a year, or 3,600 over the nine years that the centre has been operating. Surely, that would have been a better use of the money lavished on the centre, than having doctors and nurses demonstrate allegedly "safe injecting practices" to their "clients". In 2001 John Della Bosca also said:
      The Government has received advice from the Attorney General's Department that the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended, to which Australia is a signatory, allows the possession and use of illicit drugs for medical and scientific research purposes, including controlled clinical trials.
That was the pretext on which the injecting room was set up—that it was a controlled clinical trial. What the bill seeks to do is make that controlled clinical trial a permanent fixture. I really do not understand how that can be justified. Is not Australia still a signatory to the 1961 United Nations Convention on Narcotic Drugs? Or has Julia Gillard changed the rules so far as that matter is concerned, in addition to so many other things on which she reneged in her brief time as Prime Minister? Remember, what is happening here is that the State is not only condoning but encouraging an illegal activity. That is not what one would believe from listening to the supporters of this bill. I ask the Minister how many kids who have never injected before have gone to the injecting room to learn how to inject "safely". Does the KPMG report cover this issue?

The Deputy Premier also claimed that 70 per cent of local businesses support the centre. We have been down this road before. That statistic comes from a University of New South Wales evaluation in June 2006. The trouble is that the only businesses surveyed were those that were still existing. At the time, there were a massive number of vacant shops in Kings Cross as business owners had voted with their feet, and they were not surveyed. Nobody went out there and asked them why they had left, and what they thought of the injecting room—because, of course, that would not have supported the conclusion that the university and the Government wanted to reach. The fact that theft-related crime in Kings Cross has fallen since the injecting room has opened its doors is neither here nor there; it has fallen in many other parts of the State too, consistent with the overall drop in heroin use. Whether that is due to a heroin drought or changing fashion amongst drug users, I do not know. The Minister said:
      The Government believes it is important to maintain the positive outcomes that have been identified to date.
I hope I have demonstrated conclusively that there really have been no positive outcomes. This is an experiment that has gone hopelessly wrong. It is a waste of $3 million a year of taxpayers' money. It sends the completely wrong message to young people in particular. We should be spending this money on rehabilitation and treatment, not on encouraging drug use.

[Business interrupted.]