News / Decriminalisation of Drugs

Inside a safer drug consumption room

By lizzie gill, Friday Jan 24, 2020

The introduction of drug consumption rooms (DCR) in the UK would improve safety and reduce fatality rates, argue campaigners for policy reform.

Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a national charity based on King Street, along with Bristol Drugs Project, set up a mock DCR in the Colston Hall for the launch of Take Drugs Seriously, a series of talks taking place in Bristol until Saturday, January 25.

Explaining how the facility would work in practice, Martin Powell, head of partnerships for Transform, says: “The rooms would be set up wherever they are most needed, this can be in parks, but ideally they would be in community buildings to keep a sterile and warm environment.”

He adds: “Fatality rate falls inside the room and outside as people learn to use more safely and engage more with treatment.”

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DCRs aim to provide a supervised, hygienic environment in order to allow vulnerable people to inject and consume drugs safely, with medical professionals on hand to give help and guidance to those in greatest need.

Despite growing calls for reform of current drug policy, they remain illegal in the UK.

Martin Powell showing the discarded needles found in and around Bristol. Photo by Lizzie Gill

The mock-up facility in Colston Hall gives people an insight into how the model might work. The basic setup consists of a front desk, or greeting area, with a register for taking down the name of the user and details about the drug they wish to consume.

The user will be given an antiseptic wipe and water to be taken into a booth further into the room. This booth will be overseen by a medical professional, such as a nurse, who will watch the person as they inject the drug and look for any signs of problems.

They will then be guided to a ‘chill-out area’ with comfortable seating and a kettle where they will sit until the nurse is happy that they are stable. This area will give the chance for the user to engage with support services and listen to advice on safer injecting techniques.

Should the consumption take a turn for the worse, there would be ‘injectables’ on hand to rectify the issue, a sealed injection of Naloxone which counteracts the effects of opiates.

Syringes and wipes set up by the mock DCR. Photo courtesy of Transform Drug Policy Foundation

The booths set up for drug consumers. Photo by Transform Drug Policy Foundation

There are now more 100 DCRs operating in at least 66 cities around the world. They have been successfully implemented in Canada, with ten in Vancouver alone.

Powell is optimistic about changes in government policy on drugs in the next few years. He is adamant that policies like the introduction of heroin prescribing clinics will help to both reduce deaths from drug misuse and improve the situation in local communities.

They are part of a bigger campaign to change drug policy following the successful decriminalisation of drugs in Canada, Portugal and the Netherlands – evidently these rooms tackle the symptom and not the cause of the drug problem in the UK, as users are consuming pre-obtained drugs.

“I witnessed the Drug Consumption Rooms at work in Copenhagen,” says detective chief inspector Jason Kew of Thames Valley Police, viewing the set-up in the Colston Hall.

“One chap came in and injected safely, a nurse was able to check him over. He was seen to have other health issues, which were catered for in the booth in that same visit, he had dental work done and was even seen by a chiropodist”.

Transform partnered with the University of Bristol and UWE Bristol to bring together politicians, leading academics, treatment providers, health agencies and policy reformers to share their knowledge and experiences of drugs and current policy.

Find out more at www.transformdrugs.org/bristol-take-drugs-seriously

Main photo by Transform Drug Policy Foundation

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