As the proposal moves forward to open the UK's first drug consumption room (DCR) in Glasgow, here are five key things that naysayers should take note of.
DCRs allow people who use drugs to do so in safe environments, with clean equipment, and in the presence of medical professionals who can prevent them from suffering a fatal overdose. They are furthermore well evidenced in preventing the spread of blood-borne viruses (BBVs) such as HIV and hepatitis C.
Glasgow City Council has said that any such facility must offer "wrap-around services [...] such as primary health care, addictions counselling, and housing and welfare advice" on the premises. Specific details are still being considered for the facility, also, such as the inclusion of an inhalation room for those who smoke drugs.
Any DCR in Glasgow could assist the estimated 500 people who publicly inject drugs in the city, and combat HIV rates among this population which have risen considerably in the last year. It would also go some way to combating drug-related deaths in Scotland, which are currently at an all-time high.
Despite the evidence of their efficacy, the planned introduction of DCRs in Glasgow has faced significant condemnation from people who are angry their tax money could go toward facilities they believe encourage drug use.
Fortunately, even for those without any compassion or interest in the welfare of people who use drugs, there are still many ways in which DCRs will improve society as a whole.
1. DCRs ensure safer streets
Between 2012 and 2013, almost 2,500 discarded needles were found on the streets of Glasgow, including in parks and near schools. This is primarily the result of people injecting drugs in public places, and being without an immediately accessible place to dispose of the needle. DCRs provide hygienic disposal boxes so this doesn't need to happen.
For opponents of DCRs, it would seem that a child being pricked by a dirty needle in the playground is merely the collateral damage of the moral crusade against drug use.
The very nature of DCRs improves public safety. By offering a designated facility for people who use drugs to consume safely, there are less likely to be intoxicated people on the streets.
2. DCRs reduce the spread of disease
A 2015 report by the UK Government found that "around half of those who inject psychoactive drugs have been infected with hepatitis C". Additionally, in most of the UK, people who have ever injected drugs are around three times more likely to have HIV than those who have not.
DCRs provide people with clean needles and syringes in hygienic environments so that there is no risk of acquiring or spreading an infection within the facility.
Reducing the risk of people who use drugs acquiring an infectious disease reduces the risk for all of society, as such infections can be spread through sex or childbirth.
3. DCRs improve access to emergency services
Today, if someone suffers an overdose, gets pricked by a dirty needle, or becomes publicly violent while under the influence, emergency services will be sent to deal with the situation at the taxpayers' expense. If and when the Glasgow DCR is operational, the likelihood of any of these issues arising will decrease.
Healthcare and security professionals on-site at the DCR will likely be sufficiently trained to handle such situations, so police and ambulance services will have more time and resources to deal with other emergencies.
4. DCRs can reduce crime
Police forces around the UK are over-stretched, with Police Scotland in particular facing significant public criticism for its poor response times to violent crimes. Once the DCR is introduced, police can concentrate on serious crimes; if a house is being burgled, it will be less likely that the closest officers are too busy arresting someone for drug possession. And, as already mentioned, DCRs can reduce the frequency of people under the influence of drugs causing public disturbances.
5. DCRs help people integrate into the legitimate economy
DCRs can address issues that go far beyond drug use. They provide a space to address structural inequalities such as poverty or homelessness, and can link people up to broader physical and mental health services, all factors which can and do keep people on the margins. The service link up DCRs provide can contribute positively toward bringing vulnerable people back into society.
There is nothing about drug use that inherently prevents someone from positively contributing to society. But by forcing stigma upon people who use drugs, we are pushing them to the fringes of society and denying them any stake in its future.
Although the title says 'Five', there is one last reason for why DCRs must be introduced that cannot be ignored.
6. DCRs save lives
Across all ten countries that have implemented them, and all the different models of implementation, not a single person has died of a drug overdose in a DCR.
Opponents of DCRs assert that we should focus on approaches of drug-free recovery and rehabilitation, rather than allowing drug use.
While successful approaches for some people, recovery and rehabilitation must not be the only options. It is undeniable that some people will use drugs no matter what politicians, police, or health professionals are telling them to do. The best we can do is ensure that they are as safe as possible when they use drugs, and support them if they eventually choose to reduce their use or abstain.
This is why DCRs matter: you can't recover if you're dead.
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