By Christine McGinn
Supporters want the medically supervised injecting room to stay open despite trafficking allegations.
The boss of a Melbourne health service has been stood aside after the drug trafficking arrests of two workers linked to the city’s medically-supervised injecting room.
North Richmond Community Health CEO Demos Krouskos was on Friday sidelined as the state government tried to manage the fallout from yesterday’s arrests and subsequent charges.
“It’s been an enormous disappointment overnight obviously with the alleged behaviour of people in relation to the outreach service,” acting Mental Health Minister Luke Donnellan told reporters, as he announced an urgent review of the facility.
“Those allegations are simply unacceptable, and to be blunt, undermine the safe injecting service.”
A 49-year-old Richmond man is charged with drug trafficking and a 36-year-old Brunswick West woman is due to be charged on summons with the same offence. The pair worked as outreach workers, tasked with directing people to the centre for treatment. None of the alleged offences happened inside the facility, police said. Four other people, two men and two women, have also been charged with trafficking drugs, believed to heroin. One of the men, a 35-year-old from Richmond, is due to face Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday. Two other people were arrested on Thursday but released without charge.
Mr Donnellan said the review will investigate the practices of employing drug and alcohol counsellors, and be completed “as soon as possible.” The health service operator recently completed an audit of the staff it employed and no convictions were identified, he added.
The North Richmond facility opened in June 2018 for an 18-month trial and has recorded more than 60,000 visits and managed more than 1800 overdoses without a death. A review of the centre is due in June 2020 to help decide of it will continue to operate.
Despite the arrests and charges state MP Fiona Patten said the centre should remain open, at least until the trial is complete.
“That centre is undoubtedly saving lives, it is being used by hundreds of people and for the first time we are talking about a very disadvantaged cohort entering into a health system,” Ms Patten said.
Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius told 3AW drug dealing in Richmond was “a major issue” and extensive efforts were being made to address the problem. The injecting centre has attracted controversy since it opened. Parents from a nearby primary school have complained about its proximity to young children, and neighbours say there has been an increase in waste – including used syringes – in surrounding streets.
“The residents, the police and others who have been saying that crime has gone up – the community is living in fear – has all been borne out with what is happening on the streets of Richmond each and every day,” opposition spokeswoman Georgie Crozier told 3AW.
This article was also published in most Australian Associated Press regional Victorian and many NSW newspapers.