“Lives will continue to be lost”: lobby group calls for safe injecting room in City of Port Phillip

“Lives will continue to be lost”: lobby group calls for safe injecting room in City of Port Phillip
Brendan Rees

A lobby group advocating for a safe injecting room in the CBD has shifted its focus to the City of Port Phillip after facing resistance from the state government.

The group, known as Keep Our City Alive (KOCA), a group of CBD residents, business owners, and workers, had been campaigning to establish a safe injecting room in the city to help the growing issue of drug-related harm and connect people to the support services they need.

However, their efforts were met with opposition from the government after it rejected a proposed supervised injecting service in the CBD because it was “unable to identify a suitable site that balances the needs of people who use drugs with the needs of the broader CBD community”.

Instead, the government plans to establish a community health centre at 244 Flinders St, connecting GPs, counsellors, allied health, and addiction medicine specialists, as well as expanded drug treatment.

In a statement, KOCA said it was “saddened and disappointed by the Victorian Government’s decision” and that “lives will continue to be lost unnecessarily to overdose in our city”.

But KOCA confirmed it would regroup and “continue to hold decision makers accountable for their actions and shine a light on a better way to support vulnerable people in our community”.


“The government must now explore options for a second safe injecting service in other areas of need such as the City of Port Phillip,” it said.


The group confirmed it would not advocate for Southbank to be a potential site for an injecting room, however, it believed the location of supervised injecting services should be informed by the coroner’s data.

“In November 2023, the Coroner’s Court of Victoria released the latest overdose deaths data which showed that the City of Melbourne continues to record the highest number of overdose deaths for a local government area in Victoria, with heroin causing 24 deaths in 2022, up from nine deaths in 2021,” it said.

While KOCA was unable to provide comment on exact locations outside of the City of Melbourne, it said “based on international and local experience, supervised injecting services should be located in areas with high rates of drug use and public overdoses”. 

“They should also be easily accessible by public transportation and located within or near wrap-around social support services.”

KOCA also noted while it supported the government’s decision to invest $95m state-wide in more harm-reduction measures, “we know that to save lives, we desperately need a supervised injecting service in the City of Melbourne and any other areas of high drug use”.

City of Port Phillip councillor Marcus Pearl, whose Gateway Ward encompasses South Melbourne and Port Melbourne, said the suggestion that Port Phillip should take on the establishment of a supervised injecting service, “raises significant concerns about the equitable distribution of responsibilities across our metropolitan area”.

“Port Phillip has always been committed to supporting vulnerable people, including those affected by substance use and homelessness. However, this new suggestion raises significant concerns about equitable responsibility across Melbourne,” he said.


Port Phillip has been at the forefront of supporting and coordinating essential services, but we cannot continue to bear this disproportionate burden alone.


Cr Pearl said the City of Melbourne and the state government “must develop a comprehensive vision for the CBD that addresses these challenges head-on, rather than deflecting them onto neighbouring local governments like Port Phillip”.

“The Victorian Government’s decision should be a catalyst for a more collaborative approach. We need real leadership and action from the state government and City of Melbourne,” Cr Pearl added.

“The people of Melbourne deserve a unified strategy that supports all communities.”

City of Melbourne councillor Dr Olivia Ball, a former psychologist as well as a health and wellbeing spokesperson for the council, told Southbank News that evidence was clear that a safe injecting room was needed, “especially in the face of synthetic opioids already circulating in Australia that are far, far more dangerous than heroin”.

“Melbourne City Council has repeatedly called on the state government to open overdose prevention services (aka supervised injecting) in the City of Melbourne,” she said.

“Our municipality now has the highest death rate from opioid overdose of any in the country. Someone dies in the City of Melbourne every other week, on average. And surviving an unmanaged overdose puts one at risk of brain injury – the costs to the individual and society are enormous.”

Professor Suzanne Nielsen, opioid expert, and deputy director of Monash Addiction Research Centre, said there was an urgent need to upscale a range of effective harm reduction interventions, including supervised injecting facilities.

“This is especially so with the threat of high-potency opioids such as nitazenes being detected in Australia,” she said.

Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association CEO Chris Christoforou welcomed the announcement of $95.11 million state-wide action plan to reduce drug harms, which was “bittersweet, given the innovations to save lives are offset by the decision to not proceed with a CBD MSIR (medically supervised injecting room)”. •

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