Pubdate: Sun, 14 Apr 2013
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Daniel Boffey


Top Crime Writer Calls for Supervised Zones to Cut Heroin and Crack Deaths

Brighton is set to be the first British city to offer official "drug 
consumption rooms" where addicts can use heroin, crack and cocaine 
under supervision without fear of prosecution. The city's public 
health leaders will meet this summer to "give serious consideration" 
to the plan in order to save lives.

Brighton has one of the UK's highest drug-related death rates, with 
104 fatalities between 2009 and 2011. An estimated 2,000 people in 
the city have a serious abuse problem. A report published this week 
from an independent drugs commission led by the crime author Peter 
James and Mike Trace, a former UK deputy drugs tsar, is expected to 
say that drug consumption rooms "significantly reduce overdose death 
rates" and do not encourage further use.

The commission will ask the local council to launch a feasibility 
study, and Brighton's health and wellbeing board  the local authority 
agency given responsibilty for public health under the government's 
recent NHS reforms  has agreed to examine the proposal at its next 
meeting in June. Its chair, Rob Jarrett, said: "I think from our 
perspective we see the health benefits of accepting drug use is going 
to happen and it might as well be happening in a place that can be monitored.

"Our primary concern is the health of the people to make sure they 
don't kill themselves. I believe in Switzerland, where it has been 
tried, it has worked. Up until now we have had policies that have 
been based on emotional knee-jerk reactions that haven't solved the 
problem at all."

More than 90 drug consumption rooms have been set up worldwide, 
including in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. They do 
not provide drugs to users but there is evidence that they allow 
health workers an opportunity to treat addicts.

Charlie Lloyd, from York's mental health and addiction research 
group, said a study in Vancouver showed that public injections were 
reduced by 50% near the city's drug consumption room. He said there 
had never been an overdose in such a facility anywhere in the world.

Trace, vice chairman of the commission, said it believed eradication 
of illegal drug use was not now a realistic aim and management should 
now be the priority. He said: "A lot of drug partnerships around the 
country are doing good things but none of them have been able to get 
the drugs market under control. So we need to look for realistic 
objectives: ways of managing the market rather than eradicating the 
market. It is difficult for political leaders and executives within 
the police but you have to be honest about the situation. We are not 
going to do anything to make illegal drug use go away but there are 
things we can do to resolve health and crime problems."

The commission was established following the prompting of local Green 
MP, Caroline Lucas. She told the Observer that while the facilities 
would push at the fringes of the law, it could be an important innovation.

"Prohibition isn't working," she said. "This is a government that 
often says it wants to be guided by evidence and yet drugs policy is 
more or less an evidence-free zone."
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