Allowing drug users to take illicit substances in the presence of trained medical staff could be key to slowing the rate of drug deaths across the UK.
The number of drug deaths in Britain reached record levels in 2020, with 5,900 recorded, almost half as a direct result of heroin.
Now, health groups and individuals – including senior doctors, health charities and people working in health or drug related roles – have signed a statement co-ordinated by the Faculty of Public Health (FPH), urging ministers to approve the creation of overdose prevention centres (OPCs) to save lives.
Supervised drug use
An OPC is a facility that enables people to consume drugs while being supervised by medical staff who can act if they overdose.
Although not currently in use in the UK, the idea of a ‘drug consumption room’ is not a new one.
Since the 1980s, many European countries have adopted similar schemes in order to reduce diseases commonly associated with drug use, such as HIV.
Examples can be seen today in The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Denmark.
With signatories including the Association of Directors of Public Health, and charities such as the Hepatitis C Trust and National Aids Trust, the statement led by the FPH highlights the need for urgent action to tackle the growing number of drug deaths across the country.
It adds that, “drug deaths are avoidable, and it is unacceptable that we see evidence-based actions to prevent harm such as overdose prevention centres (OPCs) go unutilised in the UK.”
10-year drug strategy
The call for OPCs comes following the announcement of a 10-year drug strategy, which the government hopes will reduce levels of drug-related crime and the number of drug deaths nationwide.
This includes a £780m investment designed to improve access to treatment.
However, despite the FPH statement receiving backing from Conservative MP, Crispin Blunt – who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform – the government has said that it would not allow trials of such facilities.
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