Drug Reform Activist Running for Richmond24 November 2018
The deaths of her two nephews are not the reason Judy Ryan fights so hard for drug law reform. That hardship does, however, give her an insight into the pain felt by those in her community affected by drugs.
Ryan is running in the state election for the district of Richmond. She doesn’t expect to win but she’s put herself forward on principle. She can’t let those who would threaten the existence of Victoria’s safe injecting rooms, which she was central in introducing, run uncontested. She doesn’t mince her words speaking about the possibility of a Matthew Guy Liberal government and their promise that the Liberals would close the safe injecting rooms.
A country woman at heart, Ryan brings some Wangaratta warmth to the streets of Abbotsford and Richmond. “I love the grunge,” she says, you can hear the smile in her voice. After a career in Wodonga helping people to relocate and giving them connections to their new town, the mum of three has decided to contribute to her newer city community as her family always has.
She was influential in Cathy McGowan’s campaign for the Liberal stronghold of Indi that saw the independent topple Sophie Mirabella from the position she’d held since 2001.
Ryan is now a part of Fiona Patten’s Reason party, previously the Sex Party, that boasts a diverse membership including writers, activists and scientists.
Fiona Patten says she is delighted that Ryan has chosen to stand with the Reason Party.
“Her community activism was pivotal to the success of the North Richmond Medically Supervised Injecting campaign and she is a key reason to why the centre is now up and running and saving lives. I believe she will be a great local voice for Richmond,” Patten said.
Ryan explains that her priorities for the Richmond district that covers Abbotsford, Burnley, Clifton Hill, Collingwood, Cremorne, Fitzroy and Richmond, are drug reform, homelessness, public housing and mental health. She has highlighted safety concerns and congestion around Walmer Bridge as an additional focus.
Ryan previously ran behind the single issue ticket of safe injecting rooms. “I was expecting to scrape together perhaps thirty votes but managed to get over 600 on that one issue,” Ryan says. “I knew people cared and I listened.”
Richmond is known for its drug problems. Ryan recalls lingering in her garden as people outside her gate injected, to make sure she was there if they needed an ambulance. The personal and economic cost of this pattern required some solution.
Evidence-based safe injecting rooms were the solution activists such as Ryan identified. These rooms have been introduced in Canada and Western Europe and have been found to effectively prevent drugs related deaths in alleyways and in providing some dignity for addicts.
The evidence based approach is a cornerstone of Fiona Patten’s Reason party, Ryan explains. “We base our policies on evidence and if that science changes we’re prepared to change our policies.”
“I could never sell my soul to a major party,” she says. “I’m not prepared to compromise my values.”
Charlie Riddiford, her youngest child and a company dancer with the Queensland ballet says she really cares about Richmond, “she is constantly hosting meetings, rallies and always takes time to talk to people in Richmond about problems that can be solved.”
“I can honestly say that I have never had a friend or colleague who hasn’t absolutely loved her after meeting her,” he says.
Safe injecting rooms provide sterile equipment and a safe clean space for injecting, with nurses and social workers able to provide emergency health support when required. Their most obvious function is to reverse accidental overdoses, but they also direct people into treatment options and recovery. The director of the Richmond safe injecting room Dr Nico Clarke told The Age earlier this year that the centre had prevented between one and three overdoses every day in the week following its opening.
Ryan expects the Labor-held seat to remain in the progressive hands of Labor or the Greens, but wanted to protest the Liberal’s stance against the rooms on principle.
“If I can have one term and make life slightly easier for someone in the high rises, or homeless people that are injecting or the people who are trying to ride their bikes along Walmer Bridge, I’ll be happy,” Ryan says, as tough and raw and kind as they come.
“That’s enough for me.”
Ryan explains that the deaths of her two nephews, in 1996 and 2003 respectively, from heroin overdoses, are not the reason for her advocacy. They give her, however, “a powerful insight into the fact that those people in my laneway are someone’s family, that someone would really miss them if they died.”
“They would both be in their 40s now, they were gorgeous. Such loved, beautiful guys.”
The safe injecting room that could have saved Ryan’s nephews, is walking distance from where one nephew, a 28 year old chef, died in 2003.
As the future of the room is weighed up by stakeholders and government officials, Ryan promises that she would do anything to keep it operating, and adds, with a cheeky yet hardened smile, “I’ll tie myself to a bulldozer, whatever it takes.”