Britain’s First Needle Vending Machine for Addicts

Drug addicts could get Britain’s first vending machine dispensing clean needles – outside a police station. Controversial North Wales Police Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom is backing the scheme to put the £10,000 machine at the back of the station in the resort of Colwyn Bay.

The police are proposing to make a planning application to the local council to get the go-ahead. But the plans have already come under fire.

Danie Strydom, who runs a charity in the town to help recovering addicts, said: “What’s next? The chief constable standing on the street handing out free bags of heroin? He is infamous for enforcing the speed laws, but what about enforcing the law against drug misuse?”

But Mr Brunstrom said the scheme will help drug addicts lacking facilities in the area. He said: “This proposal is in the interests of the public and is designed specifically to save lives. The problem of drug abuse will not diminish by pretending it does not exist.”

The machine, imported from Australia where its use is widespread, will allow local drug addicts to get a clean new needle in a pack, and dispose of dirty needles in a steel bin. It is hoped it will stop the spread of HIV/Aids and hepatitis from dirty needles.

There are pharmacies and hospitals in most areas of North Wales which can hand out clean needles, but the service does not exist in the Colwyn Bay area.

A traditional needle exchange scheme in the town had to be aborted after furious protests from residents.

Maldwyn Roberts, a former police officer and now North Wales Co-ordinator for Community Safety and Substance Misuse, today defended the scheme. He said: “There has been a vigilante attitude from people in Colwyn Bay. The attitude we have is that we are encouraging people to inject. We are not.

“We have to face reality – they are injecting already. By not giving them any facilities, we just bury our heads in the sand. It is a first step to getting them help. It is not encouraging them to take drugs, it is encouraging them to get clean needles and to get them help. It is a first step to engage them. Let’s face reality, they are addicted.”

The machine will be paid for through taxpayers’ cash from the Welsh Assembly. The needles will be paid for and replaced by the Welsh Ambulance Trust.

The police have made the application to Conwy County Borough Council to site the machine at their station. The proposal will come under discussion in the autumn.

Derek Barker, chief executive of Conwy County Borough Council, said, “Everyone recognises the principle of dealing responsibly with needles and if this facility achieves that, it can only be of general benefit.”

The machine will not take money in case children try to buy and play with needles – but will instead take tokens provided by rehabilitation agencies in the area.

Ambulance staff will also be responsible for emptying the nearby dirty needle bin, which will be out of view from the front of the police station. But Mr Strydom insisted the proposal was a bad idea.

The project director of Touchstones12, a Colwyn Bay-based charity promoting abstinence from drug use, said the emphasis should be on getting people off drugs, not making the effects of those already on it better.

He said: “The Welsh Assembly spends £2.2 million on substance misuse in North Wales and just £15,000 keeping people clean. Our response is to get people off drugs.

“This idea has come from Australia. There they have gone a bit further and put something together called drug consumption rooms, for heroin and coke users. Is that where we are heading in Britain?”

Martin Barnes chief executive of Drugscope, the UK’s leading drugs information charity, said: “Needle exchanges have been effective in terms of reducing blood borne viruses and reducing substantially the number of needles discarded in local communities.

“The question is whether or not schemes such as these work on their own or as good as those based in drop-in centres.

“It’s not surprising where they are set up for the first time there may be some concern from local people. There is no evidence at all that they encourage drug use or attract users to areas because there happens to be a needle exchange there.”