The Synod of Victoria and Tasmania wants both state governments to formulate policy, legislation and funding to support the development of Medically Supervised Injecting Centres (MSIC).
It has adopted as its policy statement that MSICs are an important support to reducing the harm and death rates of people affected by drug addiction.
The Synod will write to the federal and state Ministers of Health to urge action on a coherent public policy in support of MSIC.
In moving the proposal, Uniting’s director of mission, Rev John Clarke, said MISCs are a matter of live and death for many people.
The seconder, Rev Dr Sally Douglas, who ministers at Richmond Uniting Church, said more than 30 people had died from overdoses within her community – in alleys, back streets and laneways – over the last year.
Dr Douglas said in order to be faithful the Uniting Church’s response to drug use must be grounded in its understanding of the God who comes to us in Jesus.
“Responses that are punitive or moralistic, or that do not offer graceful opportunities for healing and new life bear little resemblance to the God we know and name,” she said.
“In contrast, approaches that stand in solidarity with all people who are suffering, and that offer pathways to new life, are faithful to the being and way of Christ.
“MSICs are one such example of this approach.”
Members were told the number of annual overdose deaths in Australia was higher than the road toll and continued to grow. Nearly 500 Victorians died from both legal and illicit drug overdoses in 2016.
The recent rise in heroin use and the emergence of powerful synthetic opioids within the Australian illicit drug markets posed a significant risk of increased overdose deaths.
Death by overdose from heroin increased by 43 per cent between 2012 and 2016.
The role of MSICs is to keep people alive until they are able to successfully engage in treatment and recovery.
Uniting in NSW and the ACT has run Australia’s only MSIC, in Sydney’s Kings Cross, since 2001. In that time the centre has supervised more than one million injections without a single overdose death.
MSICs have been shown to be effective in preventing overdose deaths and engaging vulnerable community members in drug treatment and support services.
Uniting ReGen, the lead alcohol and other drug treatment service of Uniting in Victoria and Tasmania, has endorsed the establishment of a MSIC in Melbourne since 2011.
A member said the proposal offered a powerful opportunity to respond to a real need which, for some, is hidden and for others is an experienced lived every day.
Another said addicts were made in the image of God “and that is a fairly confronting realisation”.