2 April 2019

The case for drug consumption rooms is overwhelming

By Jarryd Bartle

Drug consumption rooms save lives. They provide a place for existing drug users to consume drugs safely, and the whole community benefits from lower public drug consumption, less syringe litter and reduced hams for people who use drugs.

As I show in my paper for the Adam Smith Institute, Room for Improvement: How drug consumption rooms save lives, these facilities are an important missing in how we deal with problem drug use in Britain.

The UK is currently experiencing stubborn rates of drug-related harms, including persistent rates of opioid dependence, hepatitis C infection and drug-related deaths. It is time to think innovatively and adopt tried and tested solutions.

Drug consumption rooms are already in use in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Greece, France, Canada and Australia.

The rooms are primarily geared toward injecting drug users, but can also offer facilities for smoking or sniffing of powdered drugs. They operate with the consent of local law enforcement, allowing people to bring substances into facilities where they are provided with sterile equipment, trained medical staff to deal with overdose and access to key services such as treatment, counselling, legal advice and housing services.

Such facilities are particularly well suited as a ‘hub’ for drug-dependent people who may be experiencing homelessness or have co-morbid mental health issues.

The evidence from overseas show that consumption rooms reduce drug-related deaths at a local level, reduce emergency call outs and lower rates of needle-sharing, public injecting and needle litter, as well as increasing referrals to drug treatment programmes.

They have been accepted by local communities and businesses in areas where they operate, as people can see the benefits the facilities produce.

Concerns that consumption rooms will attract users to a particular area are not supported by evidence. Evaluations in both Sydney and Vancouver have found no association between the opening of consumption rooms and higher crime rates.

Although the UK does not yet have any drug consumption rooms, proposals have been submitted by local agencies in the West Midlands, North Wales, Southampton, Glasgow, and Bristol. In 2016, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recommended that consideration be given to the potential of drug consumption rooms to reduce drug-related deaths in areas of high drug use.

Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) has made a convincing business case for how a drug consumption room would ease the burden on local health services. The case concluded that:

By reducing the use of unscheduled care and crisis services, by contributing to reductions in blood borne virus spread, by reduced drug related offending and by improved effective engagement meeting complex needs, investment in the proposed safer drug consumption facility and heroin assisted treatment service has the potential to contribute to savings in other services in Glasgow.

And there is no doubt about the demand for such services among users themselves. A 2018 survey of injecting drug users in the UK found that a large majority (89 per cent) expressed willingness to use a drug consumption room if available.

Nor should this be a partisan political matter. In conjunction with the release of my ASI paper, a broad cross-party group of MPs has backed the idea of introducing a drug consumption room in the UK.

It’s time to look at what has worked overseas and implement what works for the benefit of substance users and the wider community.

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Jarryd Bartle is a a drug policy consultant and university lecturer. He is the author of the Adam Smith Institute’s latest report 'Room for Improvement: How drug consumption rooms save lives'.