Brighton's drug addicts will be given ‘safe houses’ to take drugs legally, but is this really the answer?

These supervised rooms for drug consumption might seem like the cutting edge, but until drug treatment is viewed as a health issue, they're unlikely to be successful

Share
Related Topics

Supervised drug consumption rooms are odd places to get high. Sat in private booths in a clinical setting, addicts take their drug of choice while nurses watch on, looking out for the signs of impending overdose before they step in to intervene. Everything is clean, from the syringes handed out by the staff to the sheets on which the users collapse, post hit. This is a long way from the carefree, romantic image of drug use, but maybe a step closer to finding a successful means of getting addicts into treatment.

Though old news in other countries such as Switzerland and Canada, official drug consumption rooms (or ‘safe house’s’) are now coming to the UK. Brighton is to lead the way, with the city’s public health leaders meeting this summer to give the proposal ‘serious consideration’, while other cities are expected to follow. The stimulus, according to Rob Jarrett, the chair of Brighton’s health board, is ‘the health of the people to make sure they don’t kill themselves. Drug use is going to happen and it might as well be happening in a place that can be monitored’.

In many ways, the move is progressive. The implementing board talk of the failure of drug criminalisation and previous ‘knee jerk reaction’ policies in addiction treatment. They point to countries like Switzerland where deaths from drug overdoses have significantly decreased in areas offering safe houses, and they talk of the benefits to communities that come from addicts taking their drugs behind closed doors. As the limitations of present drug policy become increasingly apparent, it is refreshing to see an incentive that moves for change rather than peddling the stagnant waters of the criminalisation approach.

Yet somehow all of this feels terribly familiar. The discussion of health as characterized by death rates rather than life quality, the focus on the benefits for the sober community over those of the addicts themselves, and the deterministic attitude that addicts cannot be seen apart from their social context; these are the prerogatives of a system that sees addiction first and foremost as a social scourge, not an individual illness. It is these same values that have kept the NHS pouring its addiction funding into methadone clinics and flash detox plans over the previous decades, while abstinence based programs go scandalously under-researched and underfunded. It is these same values that have kept the doomed war on drugs waging and kept drug addicts marginalized and navigating a life of crime rather than looking for help. And it is these same values that could, if not addressed, designate safe houses as death’s waiting rooms rather than the first step towards recovery.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Where supervised consumption rooms are directly interlinked with recovery programs, they have been shown to dramatically increase the amount of addicts going into recovery. Vancouver’s Insite house is a case in practice. While addicts take drugs in the consumption room on the ground floor, directly above them on the second floor those who request it go through the first stages of withdrawal and detoxification, while on the 3rd those in the final stages of recovery receive community support, treatment programs and housing/job seeking advice. The idea is simple; when the fear, stigma and glamour is taken out of drug use, addicts are often quick to seek help. The health and community benefits are quick to follow.

Activists in the field of addiction have been arguing this to the UK government for years, says Julia Cleary at the addiction treatment organisation UK Rehab. ‘Until we approach addiction as a health problem suffered by an individual rather than a social problem suffered by the taxpayer, we will be unable to treat it humanely and effectively.’

Safe houses could well be a move in the right direction, but they must be treated as the first rung in the ladder from chronic drug addiction rather than just a way to keep death rates down and addicts off the streets. Otherwise they will not tackle the problem but just hide it from view.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried