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Confusion over ‘active plans to open’ drug consumption room in Wrexham

The BBC’s flagship UK-wide Ten O’Clock News programme on Wednesday last week featured a report on heroin usage, and various ideas being trialled around the UK to help with the issue – including drug consumption rooms, also known as safe injecting facilities.

The BBC report cited the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones visiting such a facility, ‘…and impressed by its results says there are now active plans to open a similar facility in Wrexham’. The section of the report in the below video referred to a drug consumption room while showing pictures of Arfon Jones touring such a facility in Switzerland .

We asked Wrexham Council and others if there were plans to open such a facility in Wrexham, and other associated questions including if such a consumption room was discussed as an outcome at the ‘Gold Command’ grouping set up recently to deal with the recent issues on the Groves site.

Wrexham Council bluntly told us: “The Council aren’t aware of any plans.”

Local MP Ian Lucas provided us with a copy of a letter he has sent to the Police and Crime Commissioner and the Chief Constable of North Wales Police relating to these questions on the 12th, noting his role in collective ‘Gold Group’ work.

Part of the letter reads: “It is, therefore, disappointing to, again, see Arfon pursuing agendas which do not assist this process when he has not been directly involved in the steps which are being taken to address the problems we have in Wrexham, Indeed, his withdrawal of funding for Hafan-y-Dref undercut ideas we discussed to try to address the problems.

“Last night, we had a national news report returning to the issue of injecting rooms in Wrexham, an issue not discussed at the Gold Group which includes the police. I am not aware that this is a proposal that the police, the Council or the Health Board are considering. Alex Goss says he has no knowledge and he is the Divisional Commander.

“If the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner cannot engage constructively in addressing these difficult problems, it should not engage at all. It cannot pursue policies that are not discussed or approved by those whose responsibility it is to manage the situation, namely the Gold Group.”

We asked Betsi Cadwaladr University Heath Board about the ‘active plans’, enquiring what progress had been made and why they felt it was a good idea.

Carole Evanson, Clinical Network Manager for Substance Misuse Services, told us “We’ve had no formal discussions with our partner organisations about the introduction of drug consumption facilities in Wrexham, or anywhere else in North Wales, but we are committed to working with them to ensure that together we provide the most appropriate evidence based interventions and treatments for drug users.”

“Our focus is to help people overcome their addiction and as such the treatment is recovery focused. Our services include detoxification and various talking therapies, and we also offer pharmacological treatments providing substitute medications and relapse prevention medication.”

“In addition, our Harm Reduction Service, which offers advice on things like safer injecting and needle exchanges, encourages people into treatment and also gives advice on matters such as accommodation and employment.”

We had queried at the same time to the Police and Crime Commissioner, and followed up yesterday noting that, as above, various stakeholders appeared unaware of any plans.

A reply was received from the PCC’s public relations provider, in which Arfon Jones said: “I have been clear from the outset about my view that having a Safe Injecting Facility or a consumption room in Wrexham could be beneficial and could help save lives.

“The idea is work in progress, with both the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) and the local authority being aware of the proposal which has already been discussed by the Area Planning Board.

“It was also discussed at BCUHB Substance Abuse Meeting at Llangefni in August as well as with senior Welsh Government officials and with the Deputy Minister, Rebecca Evans today.

“Quite rightly, this matter is a priority for the Welsh Government Advisory Panel for Substance Abuse.

“My stance on this subject is well known so it is hard to understand why Mr Lucas, Wrexham Council and the health board would say they have no knowledge of it.

“Opening a Safe Injecting Facility is an option we have to address to ensure harm reduction while at the same time making things better for the local community.

“This is such a serious matter that it is incumbent on us to think outside the box and come up with solutions that actually work, for everybody’s sake. This is what I am trying to do.”

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