Hundreds of people have rallied in Richmond calling for a safe injecting facility to be trialled to reduce the high prevalence of drug overdose deaths in the area.
The march, organised by local residents, drew a crowd of over 500 people. The group walked down Victoria Street and were led by family members paying tribute to loved ones who have died from drug overdoses.
Last year, 34 people fatally overdosed in the City of Yarra, which includes the suburbs of Richmond and Abbotsford.
The majority of those deaths occurred in laneways off Victoria Street.
At one point, a small group of counter-protesters including some local business owners briefly confronted the crowd.
While the majority of the area’s traders support safe injecting rooms, some disagree the trial should take place on Victoria Street.
The counter-protest also called for alternative solutions such as increased CCTV and police presence.
Sunday’s march is the latest in a series of campaigns asking the State Government to reconsider its firm opposition to the implementation of a trial safe injecting facility.
Supporters of the proposal want to see a clinical, clean space for drug users to safely consume under medical supervision.
Services such as counselling, legal advice, and housing assistance would also be on offer once clients move through into the recovery area.
Supervised injecting rooms operate in several cities throughout the world including Sydney.
The rally ended on Lennox Street and crowds heard from families personally impacted by drug addiction.
‘The need to adopt a safe injecting facility is an issue far too deadly to be used by our parliamentarians as a cowardly political football,’ said Loretta O’Connor, mother of 27-year-old Sam who died from a drug overdose last year in North Richmond.
‘I don’t want any more Victorian families to suffer what our family has had to endure in losing our much loved and adored grandson, brother and son.’
Moments after the crowd dispersed, emergency services were called to respond to a suspected drug overdose nearby. Paramedics worked on the man for more than an hour before he was conscious again.
It is unclear whether the man was taken to hospital.
Premier Daniel Andrews remains resolute telling reporters on Sunday his government’s stance on the issue had not changed.
‘But I do understand people feel very deeply about this and I respect their right to march today to make their point,’ he said.
The State Government’s recent Inquiry into Drug Law Reform is due to hand down the final report in September. Mr Andrews says the government will have a ‘close look at it’ once tabled in Parliament.
A more comprehensive inquiry with over 50 submissions will release another summary in early 2018.