Police commissioners urge Home Office to drop opposition to addicts’ ‘fix rooms’
There are renewed calls for the UK government to allow the opening of a drug consumption room in Glasgow after three police and crime commissioners backed the idea as a way of saving lives.
The elected commissioners for Durham, North Wales and West Midlands said they were “deeply concerned” about the Home Office’s opposition to the use of drug consumption rooms (DCRs), which are sometimes referred to as “fix rooms”.
Earlier this year the UK government rejected a proposal by Glasgow City Council to open a ‘‘fix room”.
The plan came among amid growing concern over the number of HIV infections related to intravenous drug use.
In a joint letter to Home Office minister Victoria Atkins, which has been seen by The Scotsman, Arfon Jones (commissioner for North Wales), David Jamieson (West Midlands) and Ron Hogg (Durham) warn drug deaths across the UK are at an all-time high with the added risk that the painkiller fentanyl could be introduced into the heroin market.
“DCRs have been shown to reduce syringe sharing and litter which in turn reduces the risk of blood-borne virus infections, and they can reduce overdose fatalities and ambulance call-outs for overdose, thereby reducing pressure on our emergency services,” they said.
“Evidence also suggests that DCRs save more money than they cost, with evidence from Vancouver that the DCR there saved over $18m in health costs over a ten-year period.”
The letter concludes: “If the government was to allow a pilot site, based on local needs assessment, to operate in the UK, we would be able to demonstrate what works locally.
“We are sure, like us, you want to see a reduction in drug-related deaths, a reduction in health risks, fewer open drug scenes, improved cleanliness, reduced public insecurity related to drug use and an increase in services that support some of the most marginalised and vulnerable in our society.”
Earlier this year, Lord Advocate James Wolffe said the UK government would be required to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act before a consumption room could be given the go-ahead in Glasgow.
The Home Office later said there were no plans to introduce such a facility amid ethical and legal concerns.
Glasgow, which has an estimated 13,600 problem drug users, has seen a growing number of addicts diagnosed with HIV, with the cost to the health board put at more than £29m.
Councillor Mhairi Hunter, who brought forward the proposal for a consumption room, said the city was dealing with a “public health emergency”.
She said: “We’ve seen outbreaks of anthrax, botulism and HIV among the population of city centre drug users. There are over 70 safe drug consumption facilities across the world and over 100 scientific evaluations of them done.
“There’s a very strong body of evidence to show that they reduce infections and overdoses, as well as anti-social behaviour and discarded drug equipment. The arguments in favour are extremely strong.”
She added: “We will continue to engage with [the Home Office] positively and try to persuade them to change their minds. I very much welcome the fact the police commissioners down south are doing the same thing.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Safe consumption rooms have helped save lives in countries such as Australia and Denmark.
“Glasgow city councillors recently unanimously supported calls for development of such a facility, which was also overwhelmingly supported by the Scottish Parliament, and the UK Government’s own drug policy advisors have found that they reduce drug-related deaths and reduce the transfer of blood-borne viruses, improve access to primary care and treatment.
“We continue to call on the UK Government to permit the facility or to allow the Scottish Parliament the powers to consider the law in this area.”