In a marked departure from Brexit division a rare moment of unity has broken out as a coalition of MPs have today backed a new report by the free market Adam Smith Institute evaluating the case for Drug Consumption Rooms (DCRs) to be introduced in the UK.
Cross party backing from Conservative, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat, and Green MPs as well as crossbench Lords shows the breadth of support from across Parliament to introduce Drug Consumption Rooms and reduce the number of deaths from drug poisoning.
In an open letter published by The Telegraph, the MPs say that “Communities are being ripped apart, criminal networks are profiting, and thousands of people are dying every year,” before going on to say that “Drug consumption rooms are an evidence-based harm reduction intervention which allows people who use illicit drugs to do so within a medically supervised environment.”
The Adam Smith Institute says that the UK has fallen behind other western countries in harm-reduction drug policy with 10 OECD countries (including Denmark, Canada, and France) already extensively offering the service with dramatically positive effects.
DCRs are not aimed at the general public but primarily seek to attract hard-to-reach populations of users—including the homeless, those with severe mental health issues, and those most at risk of spreading diseases through needle use (such as HIV). Under systems used across the world there is usually a minimum age requirement, assessment of those using the service for need, sterile equipment, medically trained staff, consent and co-operation with local police services, and connections with council and social care services.
According to a 2017 survey of DCR operators, most employed nurses (80%) and/or social workers (78%) within facilities. Others employed health educators / rescue workers (35%), paid peer-workers (24%), psychologists (13%), case managers (11%) and students (11%). Just less than half required a doctor/clinician onsite (46%).
The need for DCRs in Scotland is particularly dire. The country saw 934 people die of drug poisoning in 2017, a fifth of the UK’s total drug-related deaths that year—a drug death rate nearly fifty times larger than Portugal’s. The cost to the NHS from unsupervised drug injections is enormous. If the 78 new cases of HIV caught from injection of drugs in Glasgow between 2015-16 had been prevented through use of DCRs, the NHS would’ve saved £28,080,000 over the course of their lifetime.
In Glasgow, moves to set up a drug consumption were blocked by the Lord Advocate under current rules. However he made clear that he could back them if Westminster could set out a legal framework for them to operate under.
There is significant evidence to suggest that it could be effective in the UK. A large majority (89%) of drug users have indicated that they are willing to use a drug consumption room.
The Adam Smith Institute suggests that an explicit statement by the Home Office devolving decisions over DCR operation to local authorities, health bodies, police and crime commissioners, and the Crown Prosecution Service could allow their implementation. Or, they argue, the UK Parliament passing legislation could explicitly provide a legal framework for the service.
Crispin Blunt MP (Conservative):
“Illicit drugs destroy communities, drive crime and cause deaths. Drug consumption rooms are a proven, evidence based approach to drug policy which minimises harm by providing a safe environment, clean needles, and access to healthcare and treatment services.
“As human beings we must do all we can to help others in a wretched state with serious addictions, not leave them to die on the streets. The international evidence is that drug consumption rooms reduce overdoses and save lives. They also reduce public drug use and associated nuisance to the benefit of victims of drug-users; drug-related infections, saving state health and criminal justice services millions of pounds; and the number of drug users by targeting often difficult and hard to reach individuals with treatment, advice and social services.
“To say that drug consumption rooms act as a ‘honeypot’ for drug users or incentivises drug use is once again the morally driven, unfounded opinion of those calling for a ‘tough on drugs’ policy which has created the dire situation we are in. They should instead focus on the reports from Europe and our Home Office which rather unsurprisingly proves them wrong with evidence.”
Lord Ramsbotham, crossbench Lord and the co-chair of the Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross Party Parliamentary Group:
“The Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross Party Parliamentary Group have discussed Drug Consumption Rooms and think that all the evidence, including the findings in support of a Glasgow pilot, supports their introduction.
“Many other countries have had success with DCRs, which have been shown to reduce overdose deaths and improve access to recovery services: especially for drug users who are more difficult to reach. Establishing a legal framework for their operation, or at the very least giving supportive local authorities the green light to trial DCRs, is sorely needed.
Jeff Smith MP (Labour):
“Drug consumption rooms are an important component of a harm reduction approach to addiction. They are a proven intervention to save lives, reduce syringe litter and public injection, and provide at-risk individuals with access to advice and recovery services. The Government must act to let drug consumption rooms be established where they are needed. We have to reduce the suffering and danger for addicts, and create a safer environment for the wider public.”
Dr Daniel Poulter MP (Conservative):
“There is considerable evidence that medically supervised drug consumption rooms help to reduce drug-related deaths and improve the ability of healthcare professionals to engage with people who are dependent on injectable opioids, including heroin.”
“It is important that people put aside their misconceived prejudices about opioid dependence and recognise the benefits that medically supervised drug consumption rooms can play in saving lives and reducing the financial costs of substance dependence upon wider society.”
Ronnie Cowan MP (SNP, vice-chair of APPG on drug policy reform) said;
“I find it hard to believe that anyone could read the Adam Smith Institute report on Drug Consumption Rooms and not come to the conclusion that the United Kingdom’s drug policy is deeply flawed and that Drug Consumption Rooms are not just desirable but necessary as a key component to tackle problematic drug use in our society. The report is evidence based and heavily referenced. I would implore all elected members to take the time required to read it.”
Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at the free market think tank the Adam Smith Institute, said:
Drug consumption rooms are a sensible, evidence-driven, moderate policy reform that will save lives. It’s time to completely rethink our approach to illicit drugs. It’s clear that the current approach is simply not working. The essential question should always be: what will cause the least harm? Across the world drug consumption rooms have been shown to work, it’s time Britain follows the likes of Germany, Canada, and Australia.
Jarryd Bartle, report author:
There is robust international evidence that demonstrates drug-consumption rooms decrease substance related harms and improve community amenity. Drug consumption rooms reduce drug-related deaths, reduce health burdens, decrease public injection and syringe litter as well as effectively target marginalised populations. On all indicators of concerns - whether crime, syringe litter or public health - drug consumption rooms were of more of a benefit than the status quo. The UK's current approach to illicit drugs isn't working, it's time to follow the evidence on decreasing drug-related harms.
Notes to editors:
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The Adam Smith Institute is a free market, neoliberal think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.