A formal complaint has been lodged with the governing board of one of Canberra's publicly-funded drug harm minimisation organisations over a breach in duty of care, alleging two of its employees failed to intervene as a man was dying of a drug overdose earlier this year.
Mystery still surrounds the circumstances which led to the overdose death of 48-year-old Felipe (Phillip) Alvarez on March 30.
It has been alleged two employees of the not-for-profit Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA) were inside the victim's Taylor unit for several hours as the man's condition deteriorated significantly. Mr Alvarez later died in the unit's stairwell despite desperate efforts by paramedics to revive him.
CAHMA would not respond directly to questions relating to the incident, claiming the incident may be the subject of a coronial inquest.
CAHMA executive director Chris Gough could only confirm "none of its employees were present in a professional/paid capacity at the location, date and time".
"CAHMA has little reliable information about the incident as it is still under police investigation," he said.
However, Mr Gough confirmed all CAHMA staff were trained in naloxone administration and given naloxone kits. Naloxone is a common opioid antagonist used for the complete or partial reversal of opioid overdose. It works by blocking opioid drugs, such as heroin and oxycodone, from attaching to opioid receptors in the brain.
He added the organisation was "actively investigating internally with a view to ensuring our policies and procedures are best practice."
Police have confirmed the death of Felipe Alvarez remains an "open investigation and further steps will be determined by the coroner" after an incident in which it is alleged the victim shared illicit drugs with other visitors, passed out and was revived, but then lapsed into unconsciousness and later died despite the best efforts of paramedics to save him.
No inquest date has been set and the Alvarez family have received no autopsy results.
Based in Belconnen, CAHMA describes itself as existing to "promote the health and human rights of people who use, or have used, illicit drugs".
It says on its website: "We believe that people who use drugs should be treated with dignity and respect, both as human beings and as consumers of health and social services".
It is a member of Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Association (ATODA) ACT.
CAHMA received over $1.4 million in public funding last year. The Capital Health Network contributes $668,450 through the Commonwealth government's Primary Health Networks plan. In this financial year it also received $757,886 from ACT Health.
Mr Alvarez has been described by friends and family as a "happy, bubbly man" with a "heart of gold" who was outgoing and much-loved.
However, his sister, Gaby, said Felipe was also a vulnerable Aboriginal man, whose good will and generosity were taken advantage of by others.
"The whole family feels his loss terribly," Gaby Alvarez-Sledge said.
"What we all want are answers as to how this happened if there were people present there who were trained and who should have helped him, even called for an ambulance, but they didn't.
"When my brother's life was hanging in the balance, nothing was done."
Mr Alvarez's niece, Rebecca, has lodged the complaint with CAHMA's governing board over what she described as "clear, numerous breaches of code of conduct, confidentiality, ethical and legal standards".
The cloud over the circumstances surrounding Mr Alvarez's death comes at a time when an amendment to the Drugs of Dependence Act is being prepared for debate in the the ACT Legislative Assembly. The bill would decriminalise personal possession of small volumes of drugs such as heroin cocaine and methylamphetamine.
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