Amid a storm of controversy, the world's largest medically supervised injection center for heroin addicts opened for business May 6 in Sydney's seedy Kings Cross suburb.

The clinic aims to reduce drug overdoses while steering addicts to treatment and rehabilitation.

The clinic is similar to 46 such centers in Europe that supply clean needles but no drugs. But Australia's Uniting Church, one of the country's largest Protestant denominations, runs this one.

Many Christian groups in Australia strongly oppose the clinic. Pat Mesiti, who directs Teen Challenge, thinks injection centers prolong a life of addiction and send the wrong message to drug abusers.

"I cannot imagine Jesus putting needles in the hands of drug addicts," Mesiti says. "He took nails in his own arms to help destroy the needles in addicts' arms."

The clinic's manager, physician Ingrid van Beek, says the 18-month trial program has been a success. More than 830 drug users have administered 3,363 injections in the first three months. The clinic has referred 258 addicts to health services.

"A significant number of people have never had contact with health professionals before," van Beek says. "The added dimension of the relationship between the health professionals and daily users can only be worthwhile."

The clinic operates without federal government support. Three registered nurses and five drug and alcohol counselors assist up to 130 addicts daily, 16 at a time.

Booths can hold two people, encouraging addicts to inject in pairs. "We know that drug deaths are associated with being on your own," van Beek says. The clinic also includes a resuscitation room.

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