Home Secretary urged by cross-party group to sanction drug consumption rooms

22 July 2019, 06:27 | Updated: 22 July 2019, 06:28

Drugs Heroin

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has been urged by a group of cross-party MPs and peers to sanction drug consumption rooms.

Tory Crispin Blunt, Labour's Jeff Smith and crossbench peer Baroness Meacher, along with seven Police and Crime Commissioners, have written to Mr Javid urging him to allow local authorities to proceed with pilot schemes.

Drug consumption rooms, also known as Overdose Prevention Centres (OPCs), provide addicts with a safer place to consume their supply, with sterilised equipment, medical help and advice on hand.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform, which is co-chaired by the three politicians, said in the letter that OPCs have been established in many countries with "good public health results" and an "absence of the feared negative consequences".

"We and many of our colleagues have been assessing their value as part of local strategies to reduce drug-related deaths and infections (primarily HIV and hepatitis), as well as incidences of public disorder and needle litter," they wrote.

"We are supportive of areas that wish to proceed with their implementation.

"We therefore call on the Government to allow the relevant local authorities the discretion to proceed with locally developed, closely evaluated pilots."

The APPG said a refusal to sanction evidence-based interventions which would bring down drug-related deaths appears to be "complacent and dangerous".

Last week, National Records of Scotland statistics showed that more than 1,100 people died from drugs in Scotland in 2018 - higher than the reported rate for any other EU country.

Former minister Mr Blunt said: "The international evidence is clear - Overdose Prevention Centres save lives.

"We are facing a crisis of drug overdose deaths, and cannot afford to reject initiatives that will help bring the death rate down.

"Policymakers must urgently escape the simplicity of 'drugs are bad, they are banned' and engage in evidence-based policy and the complexities about how to reduce crime and save lives."

Opposition whip Mr Smith added: "Instead of condemning and marginalising people who use drugs, we need to support and encourage them into treatment, and give them a chance to turn their lives around.

"Overdose prevention centres (DCRs) are one proven means of doing so. Nobody has ever died of an overdose in one of these centres.

"If the Government thinks there is not currently the legislative framework that would allow them to go ahead, it is their job to change that legislation."

Baroness Meacher said: "This week's shocking figures from Scotland, showing a 27% increase in deaths in just one year, prove that this is a public health crisis.

"Responsible local authorities are desperate to try new approaches, but are being prevented by a Home Office putting ideology before people's lives."

The Green Party's Caroline Lucas, Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, the SNP's Ronnie Cowan and peers including Baroness Neuberger and Lord Adebowale also signed the letter.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Any death related to drug misuse is a tragedy. Our drug strategy is bringing together police, health, community and global partners to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with a drug dependency to recover.

"The causes of drug misuse are complex and need a range of policy responses and many of the powers to deal with drug dependency such as healthcare, housing and criminal justice are devolved in Scotland.

"The UK Government has been clear that there is no legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms and there are no plans to introduce them."

On Sunday, Scotland's Public Health Minister, Joe FitzPatrick MSP called for an urgent meeting about the rising number of drug-related deaths in Scotland, in a letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

In his letter to the Home Secretary, Mr FitzPatrick described the "tragic" increase as "unacceptable" and added: "I take seriously the impact this has on individuals, families and communities."

Mr FitzPatrick wrote: "In response to these shocking statistics, I am inviting the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government to tackle this problem which claims so many lives."

Asking for a government minister to attend a proposed emergency summit - expected to be held in Glasgow - about the problem, he added: "The Scottish Government has already agreed that we will host such a summit, where government representatives, local authorities and the chair of Scotland's new Drug Deaths Taskforce would be invited, ensuring the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are also heard.