20 Jul Why I love what I do
This contribution was first published in the June/July edition of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ quarterly magazine.
This morning I had an eye opening conversation with a client that has prompted me, yet again, to think about just what it is that we do here.
It is well understood now that Australia’s only supervised injecting centre, run by Uniting, saves lives and prevents injuries by intervening in drug overdose, reduces the spread of blood borne viruses through provision of clean equipment, takes public drug injecting off the streets, and refers people to other health services and into treatment. What is less understood are the connections we make, the impact of engaging with our clients and accepting them as legitimate members of our local community.
We run regular public tours of the service (send me an email if you’re interested!) and there is always someone who asks me how many people we get off drugs. I say “some, but I can’t tell you exactly how many”. Then I say “would you ask an emergency physician how many people she got to engage in regular exercise?” We accept the need for certain services to treat emergencies without expecting them to fix all of society’s ills. But somehow with people who inject drugs, our only ‘legitimate’ aim seems sometime to be getting that person drug free.
The client I was chatting with this morning didn’t take up injecting drug use until he was in his late thirties. It was in response to the death of his spouse, and he’s now had 20 odd years on and off heroin. He was gentle, quietly spoken, and has managed to keep his job throughout, never once committing a crime to fund his habit. He is not your ‘typical junkie’ – his words, not mine I hasten to add – but I wondered, do we think him somehow more worthy than a typical user because of this difference? Or less worthy, because he doesn’t have the typical picture we imagine of childhood abuse and neglect, and so his dependence can be considered somehow more ‘his fault’? My point is of course, that worthiness shouldn’t come into it at all.
I wish we could see a bit more acceptance, not just in medicine but in society, that all people are worthwhile human beings regardless of their smoking habits, their drug habits, their obesity, their poorly managed diabetes/hypertension/renal disease…or whatever other chronic condition you care to mention. If we are happy to treat a football injury, an accident caused by a person’s ‘lifestyle’, why would we question treating a drug overdose, an accident caused by a person’s ‘lifestyle’?
I am so proud to work where I do. The staff are inspirational in their capacity to smile without judgement, accept and sit beside someone during an activity that most people would recoil from. But by this very act of sharing, it then allows us to engage, and to engage meaningfully and effectively. This, surely, is the very essence of good public health being practiced at the coal face.
The Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre has a mission statement: A just, fair and compassionate society in which all people are treated with dignity and respect, enabled to live fulfilling lives and have the opportunity to create and share in the community. Could you ask for more?
By Dr Marianne Jauncey, Medical Director, Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre
Get in touch
For more information about this harm minimisation service, get in touch on 1800 864 846 or email us.