Call to open drug 'shooting galleries'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Controversial facilities allowing drug addicts to inject themselves in hygienic surroundings should be trialled in Britain, a report from an influential charity said today.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation's report said the UK should pilot a series of "drug consumption rooms".

Similar facilities which already operate in eight other countries are sometimes called "shooting galleries" after the term "shooting up" for injecting illegal drugs such as heroin.

The charity said the move would offer a "unique and promising way" to help reduce the number of fatal overdoses.

It would also take drug use off the streets and reduce the problem of addicts littering the streets with discarded needles, it added.

An independent working group funded by the charity and chaired by Dame Ruth Runciman included police and health workers.

Lady Runciman said: "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.

"Setting up and evaluating drug consumption rooms would be a rational and overdue extension to UK harm reduction policies."

She added: "Well-designed and well-implemented drug consumption rooms would have an impact on some of the serious drug-related problems experienced in the UK."

The report described the following procedure in an official drug consumption room:

* Drug users bring illegal drugs to the facility and register with a receptionist;

* They wait before moving into a different room with a number of booths or injecting spaces, a chair and a clean table or ledge;

* On entry, they are handed a sterile syringe and other items such as a tourniquet and sterile water for dissolving the drug;

* The user injects the drug;

* Trained staff are allowed to observe and advise, but not assist the injection process;

* A separate area is available for the addict to sit and relax after injecting;

* Staff would be able to assist if the user collapses.

Some drug consumption rooms overseas feature "smoking rooms" where addicts can smoke crack or heroin.

But the Rowntree Foundation's working group said initial pilots should concentrate on injecting rooms only.

There are about 65 drug consumption rooms in operation in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Luxembourg, Australia and Canada.

The report said there were likely to be tens of thousands of heroin injections administered each month in public places in England alone.

It concluded that the rooms can lead to a reduction in incidents of public drug taking, and to a fall in littering of drug detritus.

Also, public disorder and drug-dealing near drug consumption rooms was "infrequent", and the facilities did not affect levels of theft or robbery carried out to feed drug habits.

The Commons' all-party Home Affairs Select Committee considered shooting galleries in 2002 but rejected the idea.

Lady 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."

If central government did not back the idea, local agencies should devise schemes where needed, she added.

Welcoming the report, chief executive of drugs education charity DrugScope Martin Barnes said: "This carefully-considered report will test the extent to which we are able to have an informed, rational and calm debate about drugs policy and reducing drug-related harms.

"A policy which can save lives deserves serious consideration however controversial it may seem at first.

"The international evidence in favour of piloting drug consumption rooms in the UK is strong and persuasive and we particularly welcome the emphasis on local agency working and engaging with local communities."