Drug users in Ballarat’s CBD will soon have access to clean syringes around the clock as part of UnitingCare’s new needles program.
A planning application has been lodged with the Ballarat City Council for the installation of a syringe dispensing unit, which will be housed at the community service provider’s Dana Street facility.
The unit, which is similar to a vending machine, will provide drug users with access to clean needles as well as other safety equipment after business hours.
The units are commonplace throughout Melbourne and have also been installed in several locations across regional Victoria.
UnitingCare wellbeing services manager Ivan Thorne said the installation was part of a “common sense” approach to reducing disease and improving overall community safety.
“It’s a harm minimisation approach to drug use reduction and to improving safety in the community by getting needles off the streets,” Mr Thorne said.
“It will also benefit people who aren’t using illegal drugs like diabetics who will now have that 24-hour access.”
UnitingCare officially kicked off its needles program about four weeks ago in conjunction with Ballarat Community Health, which gives drug users in central Ballarat access to clean equipment during working hours.
There has been no dedicated needles program in central Ballarat since 2014, when BCH shifted its headquarters from the CBD to Lucas.
UnitingCare expects to receive the green light from council in the coming weeks.
The units have been in use throughout Victoria since 2014 but were first implemented in New South Wales back in 1992.
The announcement comes almost a year after Western Victoria Primary Health Network commissioned UnitingCare Ballarat to deliver a $419,000 counselling service to tackle drug and alcohol misuse.
The facility, which UnitingCare hopes to have up and running within the next month, will be predominantly funded by the state government.
It comes after the government recently came under fire for saying it would allow methamphetamine to be used in its trial safe injecting room in Richmond.
Mr Thorne said it was important the new installation was not entangled in the debate occurring around injecting rooms as syringe units were commonplace elsewhere in the state. “This should never be confused with injecting rooms, it’s about making sure people can access clean equipment.”