Mock heroin consumption room goes on display at drug policy and reform conference

A drug consumption room – where users can take heroin under medical supervision – has gone on display in the UK for the first time.

The facility would offer a hygienic place for people to inject their own illegally-bought drugs and access overdose treatment if required.

It features individual booths with sharps bins as well as bright lights, mirrors and a range of needles to help users inject.

Staff have access to Naloxone, a medication used to counter the effects of opioids in the event of an overdose.

Transform Drug Policy Foundation has set up the mock room as part of a Bristol-based conference discussing drug policy and reform.

They say it is the first time people in the UK will be able to see how a supervised and hygienic drug consumption room could work.

There are currently no such rooms operating in the country and the Home Office confirmed there are “no plans” to introduce them.

Martin Powell, of Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said the rooms are in use in eight European countries.

“Safer drug consumption rooms are for people with serious heroin problems,” he said.

“This is emphatically not about what people would view as recreational drug use.

“This is a last-chance saloon, it is not something that is going to encourage in any way people to take drugs in the first place.”

Mr Powell said a drug consumption room would only be set up where there is already a “major street injecting issue”.

They would be in existing facilities, such as hostels, medical clinics or drug treatment initiatives.

“They have massive benefits for the individuals too – no-one has ever died of an overdose in one of the rooms despite millions of injections over the years,” Mr Powell said.

“No-one contracts Hepatitis C as the needles are clean.”

People engage with staff at the facility about treatment options, leading to a potential reduction in drug use.

They also learn how to inject more safely, reducing complications such as amputations and infection, Mr Powell said.

The rooms would be equipped with a resuscitation kit usually carried in ambulances, as well as Naloxone.

“What we would like to see is drug safety testing alongside a safer drug consumption room,” Mr Powell said.

Drug consumption rooms are different from heroin-assisted treatment (HAT), which has been piloted in Middlesbrough and Glasgow.

HAT sees drug addicts receiving daily doses of diamorphine under medical supervision.

Unlike HAT, drug consumption rooms see users bring their own supply of illegally-bought drugs.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “The Government has no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms in the UK.

“Illegal drugs devastate lives and communities and those who sell drugs will face the full consequences of the law.”

She added that the Home Office supports a “range of evidence-based approaches” to reduce the harms of drug misuse, including HAT and widening the availability of Naloxone.

Transform Drug Policy Foundation has partnered with the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England to host Bristol: Take Drugs Seriously – a series of events on drugs and policy.

Dr James Nicholls, chief executive of Transform, said the city faces “unique challenges” in relation to drug use and harm.

“However, it also has a history of innovation and leadership in thinking differently about drug policy,” he said.

“It was one of the first areas to introduce a police ‘diversion scheme’ for people caught in possession, and in 2018 was the first city to offer city-centre drug testing.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Claire Hayhurst / PA Wire.