Consumption rooms for legal drug-taking around the world
- 18 April 2013
- From the section UK
A recent study commissioned by Brighton and Hove city council recommended the opening of drug consumption rooms, places where people could inject drugs under medical supervision without fear of prosecution.
The aim is to lower the number of drug-related deaths in the city, a problem Brighton suffers with particularly, and reduce the amount of drug-taking on the street and the associated problems that it causes.
Critics however have suggested the policy would risk condoning illegal behaviour, will enable people to continue a poor lifestyle and places too much emphasis on harm reduction at the expense of care for users.
The policy, which aims to reduce the health risks associated with drug-taking and help users get access to treatment programmes, has already been implemented, in different ways and to a different extent, in Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Spain, Luxembourg, Norway and the Netherlands.
The first officially-sanctioned drug consumption room opened in Berne in 1986. Health workers had noticed that drug users were being shunned by cafes and bars and so were gathering in the street. They opened cafes for them where they would have access to healthcare information and the opportunity to seek treatment.
People then began using these cafes as places to take drugs and the authorities decided that, rather than banning the practice, it would be more effective to monitor it and provide users with a safe and clean environment.
The facilities provide, along with a place to take drugs, a cafeteria, showers, fresh clothes and provisions for health and social care. No drug-dealing is allowed on the premises and no alcohol is sold in the cafeteria, but there are places for smoking and sniffing as well as injecting.
Users of the rooms must be at least 18 years of age and be a dependent drug user with official documentation, casual users are not allowed to use the rooms.
Vancouver has the only legal drug consumption room in North America. It operates under a special exemption from the country's drug laws which it nearly lost in 2008. The minister for health refused to extend the exemption but the Canadian Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favour of the facility staying open.
Users in Vancouver remain anonymous and, unlike most other drug consumption rooms, no admission criteria are required.
The room is also used for research projects, but these are optional for users. The facility has 12 fully-equipped injection booths, with syringes, cookers and tourniquets, as well as a "chill-out" lounge and rooms where people can stay if they wish to detox, before moving on to a longer-term rehabilitation programme.
In 1990 a church-operated social care institution began allowing drug-taking on its premises but consumption rooms were not officially established by law until 1996.
By 2010 there were 37 consumption rooms in 25 different cities, many of which form part of a larger facility offering a broad range of social and medical care.
People using the rooms are required to sign a contract agreeing to the house rules and must already have their drugs on them.
There are limits on how long a user can spend in the rooms, with separate rooms for injecting and smoking.
Australia's only consumption room is in Sydney and is run by a non-government Christian organisation. Like many other drug-user facilities around the world, people must be 18 to enter, be already dependent on drugs and not be pregnant or accompanied by a child. Drug-dealing on the premises is banned and people must not be intoxicated when they arrive.
Upon arrival visitors to the centre are assessed, their personal information and medical history, including overdose and treatment history, are taken. They then go to the injection rooms, where medical help is available in case of overdose.
There is an aftercare room where they can be observed after using until they are ready to leave, they are not allowed to immediately return to the injection rooms. As well as health advice the centre also helps users with housing, welfare and legal issues.
Drug consumption rooms were already operating in Hamburg and Frankfurt before they were formally legalised in 2000 and there are now 26 in existence in 17 different cities. German consumption rooms refuse entry to people who are under opioid replacement therapy, such as the methadone programme, as well as new injectors and intoxicated people.
The centres provide clean drug paraphernalia as well as advice on how to use safely. There are also on-site counselling programmes, which aim to refer users to treatment programmes. They also provide free condoms and affordable meals and often have showers and laundry services.