Pubdate: Wed, 24 May 2006
Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: 2006 Telegraph Group Limited
Author: Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
Note: The Report of the Independent Working Group on Drug Consumption 
Rooms is on line at
Cited: DrugScope
Bookmark: (Safe Injecting Rooms)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


The Tories tentatively supported calls yesterday for the Government to
set up special centres where heroin addicts could legally inject themselves.

In a surprise move, Edward Garnier, the shadow home affairs minister,
said: "We do not rule out [these] recommendations. If this is to take
place in a controlled environment and is to be used as a stepping
stone to actually getting people off drugs, we will look at this carefully."

His reaction surprised groups such as Civitas, the Right-of-centre
think-tank, and the Tories' political opponents because of the
anticipated public reaction to it and because the issue of drugs has
stalked David Cameron, the Conservative leader, since the party's
leadership race.

Last October Mr Cameron urged media restraint over a newspaper article
disclosing that a relative had received treatment for heroin
addiction, and he came under intense pressure himself to say if he had
ever taken drugs.

He refused to answer the question, saying politicians were "only
human" and everyone was allowed to "err and stray" in the past. Later,
he confirmed that he had not taken class A drugs "as an MP".

The Tories promised to make fighting drugs the top priority in their
tough line against crime. David Davis, the shadow home secretary, told
the Tory conference: "Some people say we have lost the war on drugs, I
say we have not begun to fight it."

The Home Office stuck to safer ground yesterday, arguing that "drug
consumption rooms" could increase localised drug dealing and crime.

There are about 65 so-called "shooting galleries" in Australia, Canada
and across Europe. In 2002 Mr Cameron was a member of a Parliamentary
committee that said the Government should set up a trial of drug rooms
but the plan was rejected over concerns about their legality, public
opinion and crime.

Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister, said the Government's
position was unchanged. "The reasons for rejecting it in 2002 are as
valid today - the risk of an increase in localised dealing,
anti-social behaviour and acquisitive crime," he said.

But the DrugScope charity, which campaigns to shape drugs policy,
welcomed the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report and said it hoped for a
rational debate. "A policy which can save lives deserves serious
consideration, however controversial it may seem at first," said
Martin Barnes, the charity's chief executive.

The proposal for "drug consumption rooms" was made by an independent
group which said that allowing users to inject in a safe and hygienic
environment would improve their health and reduce the risk of fatal

The 11-strong panel behind the report was chaired by Dame Ruth
Runciman. Members included Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, Det
Supt Kevin Green, of the Metropolitan police, and health workers.

Lady Runciman said: "While millions of drug injections have taken
place in drug consumption rooms abroad, no one has died yet from an
overdose. In short, lives could be saved."

Her report says that in a typical drug consumption room, if a person
has problems injecting a drug, a trained member of staff can give advice.

It is detail such as this - and the idea that it would make a
fundamentally illegal activity, legal - which makes the proposal so
controversial, and raises issues of legal and ethical principle.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake