The Guardian, April 14, 2013
Brighton plans safe rooms for addicts to inject drugs
Brighton is set to be the first British city to offer official "drug consumption rooms" where addicts can use heroin, crack and cocaine under supervision without fear of prosecution. The city's public health leaders will meet this summer to "give serious consideration" to the plan in order to save lives.
Brighton has one of the UK's highest drug-related death rates, with 104 fatalities between 2009 and 2011. An estimated 2,000 people in the city have a serious abuse problem. A report published this week from an independent drugs commission led by the crime author Peter James and Mike Trace, a former UK deputy drugs tsar, is expected to say that drug consumption rooms "significantly reduce overdose death rates" and do not encourage further use.
The commission will ask the local council to launch a feasibility study, and Brighton's health and wellbeing board – the local authority agency given responsibilty for public health under the government's recent NHS reforms – has agreed to examine the proposal at its next meeting in June. Its chair, Rob Jarrett, said: "I think from our perspective we see the health benefits of accepting drug use is going to happen and it might as well be happening in a place that can be monitored.
"Our primary concern is the health of the people to make sure they don't kill themselves. I believe in Switzerland, where it has been tried, it has worked. Up until now we have had policies that have been based on emotional knee-jerk reactions that haven't solved the problem at all."
More than 90 drug consumption rooms have been set up worldwide, including in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. They do not provide drugs to users but there is evidence that they allow health workers an opportunity to treat addicts.
Charlie Lloyd, from York's mental health and addiction research group, said a study in Vancouver showed that public injections were reduced by 50% near the city's drug consumption room. He said there had never been an overdose in such a facility anywhere in the world.
Trace, vice chairman of the commission, said it believed eradication of illegal drug use was not now a realistic aim and management should now be the priority. He said: "A lot of drug partnerships around the country are doing good things but none of them have been able to get the drugs market under control. So we need to look for realistic objectives: ways of managing the market rather than eradicating the market. It is difficult for political leaders and executives within the police but you have to be honest about the situation. We are not going to do anything to make illegal drug use go away but there are things we can do to resolve health and crime problems."
The commission was established following the prompting of local Green MP, Caroline Lucas. She told the Observer that while the facilities would push at the fringes of the law, it could be an important innovation.
"Prohibition isn't working," she said. "This is a government that often says it wants to be guided by evidence and yet drugs policy is more or less an evidence-free zone."