MPs and police and crime commissioners have urged the home secretary to allow for the introduction of drug consumption rooms “to reduce crime and save lives’’.
It comes after the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland rose by 27% over the past year to reach a record high of 1,187, putting the death rate on a par with the US.
Also known as overdose prevention centres, there are DCRs in 16 countries – including Switzerland, Denmark and Canada. They are supervised medical facilities where no one has ever died from an overdose due to life-saving interventions and the availability of sterile equipment for people with drug dependencies who are also brought into contact with treatment and social services.
In a letter to Sajid Javid, 13 cross-party MPs and seven commissioners called for reform and cited how the effectiveness of DCRs has already been noted in research commissioned by the Home Office.
“The international evidence is clear – overdose prevention centres save lives,” said the Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for drug policy reform.
“Policymakers must urgently escape the simplicity of ‘drugs are bad, they are banned’ and engage in evidence-based policy and the complexities about how to reduce crime and save lives.”
More than 3,500 people died from drug-related causes in the UK last year, and the letter suggested the refusal to sanction evidence-based interventions was “complacent and dangerous”.
“Instead of condemning and marginalising people who use drugs, we need to support and encourage them into treatment, and give them a chance to turn their lives around,” the Labour MP Jeff Smith, the co-chair of the APPG, said.
“Overdose prevention centres are one proven means of doing so. Nobody has ever died of an overdose in one of these centres.”
Baroness Molly Meacher, also co-chair of the APPG, said: “The shocking figures from Scotland, showing a 27% increase in deaths in just one year, prove that this is a public health crisis. Responsible local authorities are desperate to try new approaches, but are being prevented by a Home Office putting ideology before people’s lives.”
Data released by 15 local authorities under freedom of information laws shows the number of reports of drug-related litter rose 484% between 2013 and 2018, suggesting that thousands more used needles are being left in public places.
In Copenhagen, the number of syringes found in the city’s main drug-taking hot spot fell by about 90% within the year following the introduction of a DCR in 2012.
“Where you’ve got wider health and social care systems that value and include people who inject drugs, you tend to get that mutual respect back,” said Jody Clark, the associate director at the charity Developing Health & Independence
The Labour party supports trials of DCRs, and earlier this year criticised cuts that have led local authorities to reduce spending on treatment budgets by at least £63m in six years, with those in treatment for drugs falling from 155,000 to 141,000 in that time.
The Home Office said it would respond to the letter “in due course”, but stressed it would not sanction DCRs.
“The causes of drug misuse are complex and need a range of policy responses and many of the powers to deal with drug dependency such as healthcare, housing and criminal justice are devolved in Scotland,” a spokesperson said.
“The UK government has been clear that there is no legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms and there are no plans to introduce them.”
The spokesperson added that the Home Office had amended the 2001 misuse of drugs regulations to permit needle exchange programmes to distribute foil for heroin smoking and it was committed to widening the availability of Naloxone to prevent drug-related deaths.