Injecting room campaigner kicks off Sticky Subjects discussions at the Library

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A leading campaigner for the medically supervised injecting room in Richmond will feature in the first of the "Sticky Subjects" panel discussions at Warrnambool Library. 

Warrnambool Library and WRAD will host author and activist Judy Ryan at the library from 5pm to 6.30pm on Tuesday, April 16.

The Sticky Subjects invite the public to explore complex issues.

Ms Ryan says her message is simple – if she can identify a problem and do something about it, so can others.

“I will tell my story as an accidental activist and then throw it open to the audience – is there an issue here and is there something you can do about it?”

During her Warrnambool presentation, Ms Ryan will be joined by WRAD Health CEO Mark Powell and program manager for Brophy Family and Youth Services’  Alcohol and Other Drug program for youth, Jess Moloney, who will talk about the local drug and alcohol situation.

Ms Ryan said the campaign for the proposed Lookout residential rehabilitation centre in Warrnambool was a great example where “people can become activists without marching up and down the street”. 

“It can be as easy as contacting your local politician; we can change the world just by doing that.”

Ms Ryan released her book You Talk We Die last year, received an OAM in 2022 for services to community health and was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel overseas to learn how drug-impacted communities engage governments to save lives using health-based solutions.

She said Warrnambool people could follow her lead in successfully campaigning for a much-needed health facility.

Originally from country Victoria, after raising her family Ms Ryan moved to Melbourne in 2012 and saw a problem and realised something needed to happen.

“I’d lived in Richmond in the late 70s and knew there were drugs, but after we moved here in 2012, I was totally shocked at the extent of the public health crisis," she said.

"We couldn’t get in or out of our homes because someone had overdosed. Non-medical people like me were going up to people who were slumped over to see if they have a pulse, ring 000 and stay with them until the ambos came."

In 2016 she came home and found a young man collapsed at her back gate.

“That was my turning point. People are dying in our streets and no-one is doing anything.

"I said `they’ should do something and my husband John Riddiford said `who’s they’?

“I didn’t see the people with addiction as junkies; I saw them as someone’s child or grandchild that needed some help.”

Ms Ryan googled heroin overdose deaths and saving lives and found the Sydney injecting room.

“I thought, that’s what we need in Richmond…but what could I do?”

She stood as an independent local government candidate on the single issue of a supervised injecting facility in Richmond and polled better than expected, giving her a mandate to continue. She visited the Sydney injecting room and found it treated people with respect, kept them alive and offered them support to get off drugs.

“I brought together a group of people I met during the election campaign and we ran community forums and a rally in 2017. It was a great community building experience and that changed the government’s mind, along with three coroners’ reports recommending a facility.”

The safe injecting room opened as a trial in 2018 and became permanent in 2023. 

Despite some negativity, Ms Ryan says it has been a success.

“Trained staff have managed nearly 8,000 overdoses, with no deaths in the facility. Two independent reviews have been very positive. Generally speaking, people living near the facility are pleased as it has reduced the amount of people injecting, overdosing and dying in their gardens and carports.”

Ms Ryan is also involved in the campaign for another supervised injecting room in the Melbourne CBD.

She says it’s up to local communities to push for facilities if they’re needed.

“It’s about evidence,” she said.

“There’s no use sending country people to other areas for support. People need to be near their families to get the support they need. It just doesn’t work to send someone from the country to Melbourne.”

Warrnambool Mayor Cr Ben Blain said Sticky Subjects was a great addition to the Library's events program.

“And a discussion about approaches to drug and alcohol rehabilitation is a really sticky subject to start with," Cr Blain said.

“It’s great to have a forum where these complex issues can be explored with experts or those with invaluable lived experiences.”

The Sticky Subjects discussions are free to attend but registration is required. Register online or contact the library on 5559 4990.