jrf.org.uk, May 23, 2006

Drug consumption rooms should be piloted in the UK, concludes an independent group of experts

Drug consumption rooms offer a "unique and promising way" to help lessen fatal overdoses as well as take drug use off the streets and reduce numbers of discarded needles in public places. These are the findings of an Independent Working Group set up and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Drug consumption rooms are places where dependent drug users are allowed to inject drugs in supervised, hygienic conditions. There are approximately 65 drug consumption rooms in operation in eight countries around the world but there are none in the UK.

Over the past decade, the UK has consistently had the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe. According to the report's findings, large quantities of syringes and drug-related litter are dropped in public places across the UK, causing considerable impact on local residents and businesses.

Chaired by Dame Ruth Runciman, the Independent Working Group included UK experts from the police, legal and health sectors. For 20 months, the group reviewed the growing body of evidence, commissioned research where data was lacking, visited drug consumption rooms in five countries and interviewed relevant witnesses.

Ruth Runciman said:

"Setting up and evaluating drug consumption rooms would be a rational and overdue extension to UK harm reduction policies. This approach would offer a unique and promising way to work with the most problematic users, in order to reduce the risk of overdose, improve the health of users and lessen the damage and costs to society. While 

millions of drug injections have taken place in drug consumption rooms abroad, no one has died yet from an overdose. In short, lives could be saved."

Highlighting associated health problems such as blood-borne viruses, abscesses and cellulitis, Ruth Runciman stressed how often these result in hospitalisation which could be avoided. She also spoke of the UK's substantial population of homeless drug users who often inject in public places causing distress to their local communities.

The working group also considered the legal issues. Ruth Runciman said: "From our close scrutiny of national and international legal frameworks we do not see any insuperable legal obstacles to the piloting of drug consumption rooms in the UK."

The group found that drug consumption rooms:

  • can avert drug-related deaths, prevent needle-sharing and improve the general health of users;
  • can decrease injecting in public places and reduce the number of discarded, used syringes and drug-related litter;
  • do not appear to increase levels of acquisitive crime;
  • were generally not associated with public order nuisance or other problems, especially with good interagency co-operation in place;
  • are mostly used by local drug users.

Ruth Runciman added: "We conclude that well-designed and well-implemented drug consumption rooms would have an impact on some of the serious drug-related problems experienced in the UK."


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