Drug consumption rooms could be part of the solution to treating addiction
Ronnie Cowan MP writes ahead of his Westminster Hall debate on Drug consumption rooms which he also recently raised with the Prime Minister at PMQs.
Let me start with a few undisputed facts. People have been taking drugs of various types for thousands of years. Drug deaths due to overdose are increasing year on year in the United Kingdom. In the last hundred years or so we have run a campaign to criminalise and persecute people that take certain categories of drugs.
Users are stigmatised as junkies, crackheads and stoners. Society adopts this language to dehumanise and ostracise sections of a community, this facilitates their abuse and allows them to be used as scapegoats.
The drive to arrest and incarcerate the producers, distributors, dealers and users (often referred to as the war on drugs) has seen a massive increase in violent crime and corruption along with hundreds of thousands of deaths and the criminalisation of some people for the most minor offences. The perceived problem that the war on drugs set out to solve has in fact been compounded by the war. As a result time, money and lives have been wasted. We created this situation and we can fix it but it will take a change in attitude at Governmental level to do so.
We need to treat addiction as a health issue not a criminal justice one. Not just in part but in its entirety. One part of the solution is drug consumption rooms.
Supervised drug consumption facilities, where illicit drugs can be used under the supervision of trained staff, have been operating in Europe for the last three decades. These facilities primarily aim to reduce the acute risks of disease transmission through unhygienic injecting, prevent drug-related overdose deaths and connect high-risk drug users with addiction treatment and other health and social services.
They also seek to contribute to a reduction in drug use in public places and the presence of discarded needles and other related public order problems linked with open drug scenes.
Drug consumption rooms provide needles. With this, we instantly reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. Alongside this, we improve the health of the user. And instantly we engage users back into society where they can be signposted to the relevant services.
The first supervised drug consumption room was opened in Berne, Switzerland in June 1986. A total of 78 drug consumption facilities currently operate in seven EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction) reporting countries.
Most interestingly no country that has adopted DCRs have ever regretted it and subsequently closed them. Switzerland and Spain have closed DCRs but only because the need for them reduced significantly. They were so successful that they put themselves out of business.
Before the festive recess, I asked the Prime Minister at PMQs to change the law to facilitate DCRs in the UK. And if she won’t do that then devolve the relevant powers to the Scottish Parliament so the Scottish Government can do so.
The law needs changed to protect the people that supervise the rooms and enable the relevant police forces to take a consistent stance which does not set them apart from the rest of the judicial system.
The UK Government must take action or devolve the relevant powers to Scotland to allow the SNP Government to pursue ambitious and innovative new methods to tackle the public health issue of unsafe drug consumption.
Ronnie Cowan is the SNP MP for Inverclyde and he is Vice-chair of APPG on Drug policy reform