Saade Melki struggled with addiction for 20 years before he found hope at Melbourne’s first-ever medically supervised injecting room. Established in 2018 to prevent heroin-related deaths in the city, the facility provides a safe space where people can use drugs with medical personnel on hand to act in case of emergencies. Thanks to this facility, Melki met his fiancé and survived his first overdose. He now works as a scaffolder and has reconciled with his mother and friends he lost through addiction. The facility also offers addiction counseling and health services, including dental care and tests for hepatitis. Since its opening, the MSIR has treated more than 6,000 overdose events and prevented 63 drug deaths.
While MSIR has successfully saved lives, the facility has been criticized for causing public drug use visible to residents and businesses in the Richmond area. The review of the facility also pointed out that MSIR fails to cater to mental health demands and the challenge of public-polluting needle and syringe disposal in the area.
Despite these criticisms, MSIR serves an important health response in saving lives, rejecting blind condemnation from conventional social standards. Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark particularly praised the service and claimed that it’s paid for by the public, highlighting the need for more such facilities around the country. The facility’s success could be of great value to Southeast Asia, where governments mainly prioritize punishing drug use over providing critical harm reduction services.
Southeast Asian countries primarily take a zero-tolerance approach to drug use, and in many countries, harm reduction services are still limited to the HIV area. Vietnam’s non-profit Supporting Community Development Initiatives (SCDI) has mentioned that the country must issue new laws to guarantee drug users’ non-discrimination and non-arrest with the set-up of safe-injecting facilities. Thailand appears to be in a more liberal state, having decriminalized cannabis, yet drug users inject themselves in unsafe locations where nobody can assist them. Therefore, supervised injecting facilities are the only solution that can save the lives of users.
As cannabis is completely legal in Thailand since June 9th, 2022, policymakers need to reconsider their stance in drug-related issues. The global fear of drugs and politics surrounding harm reduction must end, and governments must work to reduce the baseless criminalization of drug use. Rather than a Western imposition, it is a humanitarian issue demanding an effective, progressive approach. Governments must take the initiative to open safe injection facilities to allow users to access safer drugs with professional support.
Safe Injection Facilities are a significant step forward in saving lives and require more attention and improvement.