On 31 August, the NZ Drug Foundation (NZDF) published their proposal to introduce a pilot overdose prevention clinic into Auckland’s CBD.
The proposed pilots for the centre would take three years to complete its aims of getting drug use off the streets and into safe, medically supervised settings. Communications and Marketing Director at NZDF, Hayden Eastmond-Mein, discussed with Craccum an overview of how the centres would run. The centres will be available to everyone; however, they will have a particular focus on people experiencing homelessness who are using drugs that cause overdose in Auckland CBD. Staff would consist of trained professionals such as registered nurses, peer support workers and security staff. The centre will also offer a medically supervised consumption space, basic medical services, resuscitation, naloxone (medication used to reverse an opioid overdose), and drug checking. Laundry facilities, hygiene and sanitary products, and hot drinks will also all be available at the centre. At the end of the pilot, an evaluation would take place.
Currently, there are over 130 overdose prevention sites across 14 different countries. Hayden further said that “Evidence from overseas shows that overdose prevention centres do not increase drug use. Instead, people who use the services overseas in places like Sydney and Canada tend to reduce their use or end up in treatment”. In Sydney the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre has overseen more than 1.2 million injections without a single fatality since it opened in 2001. In 2021 New York City opened new overdose prevention centres that showed similarly positive results, averting at least 59 overdoses just in the opening three weeks of running. For the pilot to take place here in Aotearoa the Government must first agree to the project, as the NZDF states that the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act gets in the way of the new health-based initiative due to being “outdated”.
The NZDF’s 2022 State of the Nation report showed that opioid overdoses result in around 46 deaths a year, whilst synthetic cannabinoids have contributed to at least 51 deaths from 2016-2021. Sarah Helm, NZDF Executive Director, stated in the media release that although there had been a drop in synthetic cannabinoid usage the drug market is changing quickly, with introduction of more harmful substances such as fentanyl. A Ministry of Health submission document from 2013 states that worldwide there have been 5,000 overdoses since 2013 that involved fentanyl. An earlier media release put out in February that discussed the findings said, “too many people are dying from preventable overdoses and Aotearoa lacks the interventions that could stop them”.
Bachelor of Science student at the University of Auckland, Sam, says, “It’s an interesting concept, because on the one hand people are still using illegal drugs but on the other, they’re doing it safely. But realistically, people aren’t just going to stop using drugs and so there should be a way for people to take what they want or might ‘need’ in a way that’s causing them the least amount of harm”. Bachelor of Global Studies student, Ruby, says, “I think the concept is probably scary to some people; overdose is one of those topics that’s brushed under the rug and frowned upon even though it’s a very real issue. If people had access to a safe and non-judgemental environment where they could take their drugs, I think that would be incredibly beneficial. What’s the alternative otherwise? We keep letting vulnerable people die because Aotearoa is too proud to have a drug issue?”