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Aussie Drug Injecting Center Opens

May 7, 2001

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SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Behind frosted glass windows, Australian heroin users injected themselves for the first time in an officially sanctioned center that provides clean needles, counseling and medical staff, authorities said Monday.

Australia’s first supervised drug injecting center opened Sunday night in the heart of Sydney’s seedy Kings Cross strip-club district.

The church-run center, which features stainless steel booths, free-syringe dispensers and a medical treatment room, is on an 18-month trial aimed at reducing drug overdose deaths.

According to recently released figures, less than one percent of the nation’s 19 million people used heroin in 1998. But the number of users is rising while their average age falls.

Two-thirds of heroin users reported having overdosed on heroin, and there were more than 14,000 hospitalizations nationwide attributed to illicit drug use in 1997-98.

Medical director Ingrid van Beek said eight clients visited the center during its first four hours Monday night. Staff anticipate up to 200 users will visit the center each day, and van Beek said many users balked at the media presence outside the center.

Opponents of the experiment, which is sanctioned by the state government and the police, said it will not stop overdose deaths and will hurt tourism in the city.

New South Wales state opposition leader Kerry Chikarovski said the heroin injecting room sent out the wrong message about drugs.

``The injecting room is basically telling our young people that if they choose to start using illegal drugs they will be supported in that decision,″ she said.

Similar facilities are running in countries including Switzerland, Britain and the Netherlands.

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