30 June 2023

Stigma against people who use drugs specified as a causative factor in Veronica Nelson’s passing, writes Managing Lawyer Meghan Joy Fitzgerald. 

Cultural sensitivity warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised the following post and article contains names of people who have passed into the dreaming. 

Veronica Nelson, a proud Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri, Yorta Yorta woman, died whilst on remand in a women’s prison on 2 January 2020. Her charges were minor and non-violent.  

On 30 January 2023, Coroner Simon McGregor published his decision following a lengthy inquest into Veronica’s passing. He determined the cause of Veronica’s death to be ‘complications of withdrawal from chronic opiate use and Wilkie Syndrome in the setting of malnutrition’. Veronica weighed 33 kilograms at the time her passing and had used the intercom 49 times to request help.  

The Coroner determined that Veronica’s death was preventable. Coroner McGregor found that, had the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 1991 been successfully implemented, Veronica’s passing would have been prevented. 

The Coroner also found that structural and interpersonal stigma against people who use drugs was a causative factor in Veronica’s passing and that failing to provide treatment to people withdrawing from drugs can be a breach of human rights.Fitzroy Legal Service was invited to make submissions to the Coroner’s Court as an independent intervenor based on a long history of working for and alongside people who use drugs, people in prison, and criminalised women.  

As part of the International Harm Reduction Conference in Melbourne 2023, Meghan Joy Fitzgerald, Fitzroy Legal Service’s Managing Lawyer of Strategic Litigation, shared reflections about the case and its implications for the rights of people who use drugs for Harm Reduction Victoria’s peer magazine, Whack

Read the full article HERE

Fitzroy Legal Service endorses the campaign for Poccum’s Law, repealing amendments to the Bail Act that have disproportionately affected First Nations People, people who use drugs, and those experiencing intersectional discrimination.  

‘Poccum’ was Veronica’s nickname given by her family — as a child she would see a possum in a tree and pronounce it ‘poccum’. Please read more and lend your support to the campaign for Poccum’s Law at www.vals.org.au

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