Tucked away beside bins on Rainbow Alley in Melbourne’s CBD, Danial Korver is smiling in laminated photos his parents have attached to a brick wall where he overdosed last year.
Every week since his death, on a cold Saturday afternoon in June, Katrina and John Korver take fresh flowers to the alley behind Swanston and Little Collins streets that is scattered with needles from other heroin users.
Katrina Korver believes her son Danial would be alive if a safe-injecting room had opened in the CBD.Credit:Jason South
“Please use safe injecting rooms or always make sure someone is with you when injecting, it’s not worth the risk,” his parents urged in a note they stuck next to his photo.
The pair believe their 38-year-old son Danial — a roof tiler and father of one who often used the North Richmond safe injecting room — would still be alive if another facility opened in the city, as promised by the Andrews government in 2020.
“He would still be alive,” John Korver said. “He may never have gotten any better. But we would still, every now and then, have a coffee in the city [together]. Or he’d come to our house, and I’d make bacon and eggs for him.”
A site for the city’s injecting room is still uncertain, after two locations floated by the government were beset with criticism from residents and business owners worried about the impact on their local amenity.
Katrina Korver, who understood concerns with the Flinders Street site and believes a facility needs to be discrete, said users were already injecting drugs on city streets.
“The way it is now, it’s not working.”
A report by former police commissioner Ken Lay was delayed by COVID-19 and is now not due until the middle of the year, prompting speculation the government has lost its appetite for pursuing a second facility.
Premier Daniel Andrews last week said the pandemic changed drug use patterns and who visited the city.
“Therefore, choosing a site that is appropriate, or indeed, choosing whether there will be a site, all of that is on the table,” Andrews said.
Fatal heroin-related overdoses dropped across Victoria in 2021, including in the City of Melbourne. But ambulance callouts in the council area increased to 390 in 2021-22, and overtook the City of Yarra for the first time on record.
Statewide heroin-related deaths were also on the rise in the last two quarters. However, the Coroners Court of Victoria noted last month the rise could just be a natural fluctuation or a temporary “spike” and not necessarily an emerging trend.
Danial Korver, and a note from his parents at the site of his overdose on Rainbow Alley.Credit:Rachel Eddie
Opposition mental health spokeswoman Emma Kealy said the government failed to consider other options such as offering hydromorphone, an opioid replacement therapy, to get users off heroin while waiting for the overdue report.
“Everybody wants to see a copy of this report to understand what the government’s plans are for how we address drug use in the city,” Kealy said.
She said the North Richmond facility had enormous impacts on the community and more funding was needed for rehabilitation beds.
Danial lived in social housing but had bouts of homelessness, and took a concoction of prescription drugs. He had tried methadone, been to rehabilitation, and had some success with the long-acting opioid replacement therapy depot buprenorphine.
He accessed counselling at the North Richmond health centre where, his mother said, he could seek help without judgment.
CBD resident Stan Capp supports the establishment of a safe-injecting room in the city to minimise harm, but said it needed to be small and subtle to avoid upsetting residents and businesses.
“I think it’s important we get this facility right,” said Capp, who is no relation to Lord Mayor Sally Capp.
Nicole Bartholomeusz, the chief executive of community health provider cohealth – which is the government’s preferred operator for a city facility – said drug use in the CBD showed no sign of decline, and her organisation’s outreach program, City Street Health, had an increase in clients.
“Every day without an injecting service in the CBD, we are risking further loss of life,” Bartholomeusz said.
The City of Melbourne supports a safe injecting service in the area, and last year “sought a commitment from the state government to work with council on an ideal location”, a council spokesman said.
The government last month received a report on the future of the North Richmond site and needs to pass legislation before the end of June to continue it.
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