Call for legal drug-taking rooms in Burnley

A drug consumption room in Sydney
A drug consumption room in Sydney
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Burnley is being urged to consider opening rooms where drug users can inject safely in an attempt to tackle rising drug-related deaths.

Figures released last year by the Office for National Statistics showed Burnley to be one of the 10 most affected areas in the UK with 9.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2013/15.

A report by drug think tank Volteface believes the town now needs to look at implementing drug consumption rooms in order to tackle the growing crisis.

Drug consumption rooms are professionally supervised healthcare facilities where people can consume drugs in safer conditions, reducing the risk of chronic users dying from an overdose or an infection.

Public health authorities in Glasgow and Dublin are in the process of setting up trial facilities and Volteface’s latest report, entitled Back Yard, examines the feasibility of establishing more rooms throughout the UK, including in Burnley

Julie Cooper, MP for Burnley and Shadow Minister for Community Health, said: “I am extremely concerned about the level of deaths in Burnley arising from drug abuse and I would be supportive of new measures to address this.

“As a former pharmacy owner with first-hand experience of people struggling with drug addiction and the effects on the wider community, I know that there are no simple answers. In principle I am not against drug consumption rooms and look forward to assessing the impact of the Glasgow pilot.”

Evidence presented in the report demonstrates that drug consumption rooms are effective in reducing drug-related deaths, street injecting, the number of syringes discarded in a vicinity and needle sharing. They also increase uptake in drug treatment.

Evidence also shows that they do not lead to an increase in drug use, frequency of injecting, drug dealing, drug trafficking or drug-related crime in the surrounding environment.

The main concern when it comes to drug consumption rooms are their legality and the report identifies the laws which would challenge the operation of such a facility in Burnley.

However, these legal barriers can be overcome if a pilot was allowed to operate under police discretion. There is flexibility within the law for the police to take a reasonable approach to law enforcement, exercising discretion in the public interest. Pilots operating on a discretionary legal basis could then be used to build the case for legislative change.

Lord Ramsbotham, chairman of the Drugs, Alcohol and Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group said: “The fact that drug related deaths are now at record levels, is the clearest possible indicator that existing policies are inadequate, and that new approaches and interventions are required.

“This carefully researched evidence of the viability of the Drug Consumption Rooms initiative in Dublin and Glasgow, suggests that the Government would do well to replicate them in other areas of the United Kingdom. Such an introduction will both strengthen drug policy and save lives.”