Introducing drug consumption rooms in Wrexham where people can consume drugs in safer conditions could reduce drug-related litter and improve the health of people who use drugs, it has been claimed.
That is the view of London based Volteface, a drug policy think tank that is exploring alternatives to current public policies relating to drugs.
The calls to introduce a drug consumption room in the area comes after figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request to Wrexham Council showed an increase in the number of call outs to the local authority for the removal of drug-related litter.
Figures from Volteface show that between 2011/12 and 2016/17 the number of drug-litter related call outs rose from 59 to 141.
Drug-related litter includes needles and syringes which have been discarded in public settings such as parks, playing fields, public toilets, footpaths and car parks.
Readers will be aware of the work over the last few years to tackle this, including an unusual committee of councillors who viewed discarded needles ‘from a resident’s point of view’. A hotline was also launched to report needles, yet that had only 40 calls.
The meetings locally have raised eyebrows with it revealed that although large numbers of syringes are dispensed there is no tracking of numbers, with confusion over if a needle exchange programme existed and if so how useful it was.
Volteface are now claiming a drug consumption room in Wrexham would improve public amenity and the health of people who use drugs, and are urging Wrexham to give serious consideration to introducing a drug consumption room to help tackle the issues of drug related litter and to give provide a professionally supervised healthcare facility where people can consume drugs in safer conditions.
Volteface host an article from around the time of a programme on the BBC featuring Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones regarding drugs policies and ‘Supervised Injection Facilities’. There has previously been confusion on the latter topic and the BBC reporting, with the BBC’s 10 o’clock news citing the PCC saying there are ‘active plans’ to open a consumption room in Wrexham – something that baffled various local stakeholders.
Volteface say that “robust evidence demonstrates that drug consumption rooms are effective in reducing street injecting, the number of syringes discarded in a vicinity, drug-related deaths and needle-sharing, as well as increasing uptake in people receiving drug treatment.”
It also says that “evidence shows that drug consumption rooms do not increase drug use, frequency of injecting, drug-dealing, drug trafficking or drug-related crime in the surrounding environment”.
PCC Arfon Jones, has long campaigned for the introduction of a drug consumption room in Wrexham where addicts can “inject themselves safely and hygenically.
Speaking after a fact-finding mission in Geneva, Mr Jones described the “tolerant and compassionate approach” in Switzerland as a huge contrast to the drugs policy in the UK, which he said was killing people.
Commenting on Volteface’s findings, Mr Jones said: “I fully support Volteface’s call for Drug Consumption Rooms, there is ample evidence to show that they work, they reduce litter, and anti social behaviour, they reduce fear and provide reassurance to the public and more importantly they provide a safe environment and harm reduction to the user.
“Drug Consumption Rooms are a natural progression from providing needless and clean equipment which has been an accepted form of harm reduction for decades.”
With Volteface appearing to take a UK based view, we enquired why there was no Wales-specific policy or funding exploration, with some funding or legal elements potentially currently devolved or possibly devolved in the future – and health services being a long devolved area.
Locally it was made very clear to councillors that Public Health Wales and Welsh Government took the lead on policies and funding that directly impacted needle use, distribution and even guidance to the public on what to do with them if they found them.
Volteface replied to us: “The evidence shows that drug consumption rooms are a highly cost effective service as they reduce the burden on public services, such as clinical waste disposal and hospital admissions.
“Funding packages can be informed by evaluations which indicate where savings are felt once a service is established. Whilst these this evaluations are undertaken, contingency funding could be provided on a pilot basis, paving the way for a more sustainable funding package.
“A drug consumption room could also be partly funded by realigning resources from existing services targeted towards the population who are likely to use a drug consumption room, for example homeless outreach services, without diminishing core provisions.”
“There are legal barriers which would challenge the operation of a drug consumption room in the UK. However, there is flexibility within the law for the police to take a reasonable approach to law enforcement, exercising discretion in the public interest.
A drug consumption room could operate through a discretionary model, pursuant to guidance given by the police and prosecution service. Alternatively, a discretionary model could operate without legal guidance from the prosecution service and instead rely solely on multi-agency support, with local stakeholders signing a document regarding the establishment and running of the drug consumption room.
“A legislative route entails a longer process but is a more stable and permanent legal solution.
“However, evaluations of a facility, operating on a discretionary model at the local level, could be used to build the case for legislative change.
“It is not yet relevant to include devolution in a report because UK drug laws in terms of offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act and Psychoactive Substance Act currently operate across all three jurisdictions of the UK.”
Coincidentally there has been a debate last week in Westminster on the topic of Consumption Rooms, with Victoria Atkins MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department) stating: “We have no intention of introducing drug consumption rooms, nor do we have any intention of devolving the United Kingdom policy on drug classification and the way in which we deal with prohibited drugs to Scotland.
“Drug barons do not respect geographical barriers or boundaries and I dread to think what would happen if we devolved our UK-wide policy” … “it would then create an internal drug market within the UK, adding further to the pressures on law enforcement.”
We have contacted Wrexham Council for comment and at the time of writing have received no response.