The National AIDs Trust (NAT) has backed calls for drug consumption rooms amid rising numbers of drug related HIV infections, despite opposition from the government.
The number of injecting drug users with HIV is the highest since 1992, with one in 62 injecting drug users now infected with HIV, according to the NAT.
Outside of London there has been a six-fold increase in the last three years, from one in 500 (0.2%) in 2002 to one in 83 (1.2%) in 2005, the group claims.
Research from the Independent Working Group, funded by research and development charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is pushing for controlled areas where drug users can inject themselves in supervised, hygienic conditions, to reduce the risk of overdose and damage to wider society.
The group was chaired by Dame Ruth Runciman, she said: “Setting up and evaluating drug consumption rooms would be a rational and overdue extension to UK harm reduction policies. This approach would offer a unique and promising way to work with the most problematic users, in order to reduce the risk of overdose, improve the health of users and lessen the damage and costs to society.
“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.”
“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.”
The report found that drug consumption rooms can avert drug-related deaths; prevent needle-sharing and improve the general health of users; decrease injecting in public places and reduce the number of discarded, used syringes and drug-related litter; do not appear to increase levels of acquisitive crime; were generally not associated with public order nuisance or other problems, especially with good interagency co-operation in place; are mostly used by local drug users.
There are around 65 drug consumption rooms in countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Spain, Norway, Luxembourg, Australia and Canada.
Lady Runciman added: “We conclude that well-designed and well-implemented drug consumption rooms would have an impact on some of the serious drug-related problems experienced in the UK.”
Deborah Jack, chief executive of NAT, said: “Drug Consumption Rooms are exactly the sort of evidence-based harm reduction response we need to address the significant recent rise in HIV and hepatitis C amongst injecting drug users in the UK. We must act courageously, wisely and urgently to reduce the burden of these diseases in this vulnerable group of people.”
Speaking at The Grove, a drugs rehabilitation centre in North London today, Conservative Party leader David Cameron said he would consider the idea, “I certainly wouldn’t rule them out because anything that helps get users off the streets and in touch with agencies that can provide treatment is worth looking at.
“We should look at it as part of our policy review and ask ‘Will it help get users off the streets and into treatment while cutting crime at the same time?’”
But Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said drug consumption rooms do not fit into the government’s plans: “The government’s message on drugs is clear: we will not tolerate those who deal in drugs in our communities. Drug Consumption Rooms do not form any part of our strategy.
“We are of course aware of this report but believe the reasons for rejecting it in 2002 are as valid today, namely, the risk of an increase in localised dealing, anti-social behaviour and acquisitive crime. Our drugs strategy is making real inroads into tackling drug misuse by offering treatment and support in a way which makes our communities safer.”