Melbourne grandmother Tanya Williams has been using heroin for six years.After two near-fatal overdoses, she became one of 2300 registered clients to use Richmond’s Medically Supervised Injecting Room when it opened its doors mid-last year.
The 55-year-old turned to heroin after the death of her daughter six-years ago, and hasn’t been able to stop.
I lost my daughter and it’s very hard for me Ms Williams said.
I felt like I couldn’t grieve and I had to kill the pain. My family showed me heroin and it allowed me to stop my pain.
I use the injecting room about four to five times a day, and that’s on a bad day she said. On a good day I use it up to eight times.
Staff at the facility say her story is one mirrored in the clients who use the service.
These are people who have had the most enormously traumatic things happen to them,” Medical Director Nico Clark said.
And like Ms Williams, many are also homeless.
Clinic statistics indicate that 50 percent of their clients are sleeping rough in Richmond or the CBD.
Around 25 percent have recently been released from prison, and a significant proportion are battling mental health challenges.
This is exactly the group of people we want to use the room Nico Clark said.
They’re at very high risk of overdose [and have] high social needs and so if we are attracting those people, I think that’s a good thing.
But despite providing a safe space for heroin users, many addicts still don’t use the facility, instead choosing to inject in back alleys and car parks.
One woman, who has been using heroin for close to a decade, said she supports the Medically Supervised Injecting Room but doesn’t use it, fearing she will be caught by police on the way there.
If you feel like you’ve got to run the gauntlet to get there, you just go somewhere else she said.
She also had two near-fatal overdoses. The last one was in a McDonald’s bathroom.
It happened in less than a minute, might have been 30 seconds. At that point I’ve dropped to the floor. You don’t remember anything until the ambos come and get you awake she said.
The ambulance officers who attend heroin overdose cases use the drug naloxone to reverse the effects of an overdose. It can save a life in minutes.
Now, drug users, family members and residents who live near the injecting room are being trained to administer the drug as well.
Judy Ryan is one resident who has undertaken the training, after witnessing a mother-of-two die from an overdose next to a Richmond toilet block.
I heard a lot of screaming and I went over to the woman, she had collapsed on the ground… I actually rang triple zero but between when they came and when I was with her, she’d gone she said.
It was the most traumatic thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Ms Ryan, who campaigned for a safe injecting room, said she now carries naloxone in her handbag wherever she goes.
If I was in that situation ever again I would have something to do, I could do something, I wouldn’t feel guilty that I hadn’t done something she said.