Durham PCC Ron Hogg backs drug consumption rooms

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Media captionDurham PCC Ron Hogg said they wanted addicts to access drugs in a safe environment

Drug addicts should have access to "consumption rooms" where they could inject prescribed heroin legally, a police and crime commissioner believes.

Durham PCC Ron Hogg said introducing the facilities, often referred to as "shooting galleries", would help take drugs off the streets and reduce crime.

Home Office minister Norman Baker said the government was examining drugs strategies in other countries.

Related pilot projects have taken place in Brighton, Darlington and London.

'Reduce crime'

Mr Hogg's comments come after Durham Police's Chief Constable Mike Barton called for class A drugs to be decriminalised in an article for The Observer last month.

Mr Hogg, a Labour PCC and former senior police officer, said: "The successes of trials around the world, and within Darlington, have led both myself and the Chief Constable Mike Barton to believe that using drug consumption rooms to treat heroin addiction should be explored further, certainly county-wide.

"Results published in the Lancet showed that prescribing pharmaceutical heroin in this way can reduce the use of street drugs and associated levels of crime.

"This doesn't mean we're going soft on drugs in any way. We are continuing to address drug dealing and organised crime groups and are not condoning drug use.

"What we are saying is that we have a group of people here who committing large numbers of crimes to feed their habits and those illegal drugs cause massive health problems.

"There was no criminality around the trial that was held in Darlington and indeed the community became very supportive as they understood more and more about what was happening

"Of course there are obvious dangers in a project like this, but if it is run properly we can get the right outcome."

'Expensive to provide'

Public Health England (PHE), an agency of the Department of Health which works to improve people's health, said consumption rooms might not be the best way to tackle illegal drug use.

In a statement, it said: "These facilities would be expensive to provide and may not be the most cost-effective way of achieving outcomes for service users."

Teesside-based charity Bridges, which works with families of drug users, also questioned the benefits of Mr Hogg's proposal.

Tina Williams, project manager of the Stockton charity, said: "The problem is that use of heroin is already reducing. Heroin is not the main problem now. It's the use of smart drugs and skunk cannabis by kids that is the massive problem now.

"So what are we going to do with that? Are we going to legalise that and have rooms for that? I don't think so."

A trial by King's College London involving diamorphine and methadone took place from 2005 to 2011.

In April, the Independent Drugs Commission for Brighton and Hove recommended consumption rooms be introduced in the city, and councillors are due to consider the proposal next year.

A consumption room project studied by the UK government in Copenhagen, Denmark, was deemed a success by Danish police, but Mr Hogg insisted any new pilot in County Durham would not allow addicts to use their own drugs.

"In contrast to Denmark we want the health service to provide addicts with safe heroin, with consistent purities and safe additives," he said.

"We believe this will help reduce disease and death."

Mr Baker, Liberal Democrat minister for crime prevention, said government research into the drug strategies of other countries would be completed shortly.

He said: "We need to help individuals who have become dependent on drugs, recognising this is a health issue while at the same time ensuring law enforcement protects society by tackling the organised crime that is associated with the drugs trade."

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