House of Commons debate on Drug Consumption Rooms

Back to news & events

Wednesday 17th January 2018

On 17th January, Ronnie Cowan MP led a debate in the House of Commons on Drug Consumption Rooms (DCR). The debate follows work in Glasgow by the Alcohol and Drug Partnership, and Glasgow’s Integrated Joint Board to push forward the establishment of a facility. A first in the UK, the move would support the estimated 500 people who inject drugs on Glasgow’s streets.

These facilities provide people who inject drugs with a safe place to inject, using clean needles and under supervision of trained staff. Drug Consumption Rooms have been operating in Europe for the last three decades. The sites aim to reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis C, prevent drug-related overdose deaths and vitally connect people who inject drugs with trusted staff, health and social services and addiction treatment.

In 2016, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in the United Kingdom recommended that consideration be given to the introduction of the facilities which could reduce drug deaths.

During the debate, Caroline Lucas MP recognised that the greatest strength of Drug Consumption Rooms is their ability to reach people with drug addiction problems who don’t access health services, providing the opportunity to build relationships and trust with people over time, and promote links to health service and support.

Ronnie Cowan MP noted that Drug Consumption Rooms are part of drug strategies for countries across Europe, Australia and Canada. He said that “no country that has adopted DCRs has ever regretted it and subsequently closed them.” He also raised research from Vancouver’s DCR that claimed for every Canadian Dollar spent on the service, four dollars were saved as they prevented expensive medical treatments for people who inject drugs. Furthermore, a 2011 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that the facility in Vancouver saved lives, with no negative impact on public safety.

There was considerable cross party support for Drug Consumption Rooms, from Conservative MPs Crispin Blunt and Dr Dan Poulter, to Glasgow Labour’s Paul Sweeney, who all made considerable remarks in support of Drug Consumption Rooms. Whilst there is still not full support from the UK Government or some MPs, where the benefits of Drug Consumption Rooms can be highlighted people do change their opinion. Annie Wells MSP recently told an event on Eliminating Hepatitis C in the Scottish Parliament that following conversations with HIV Scotland she agreed that there were considerable benefits to a DCR in Glasgow.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, who outlined the position of the UK Government, stated, “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 in Scotland.”

HIV Scotland had hoped that from the cross party support, recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and support from services in Glasgow, that the UK Government would consider the benefit from amending policy to allow for Drug Consumption Rooms.

The significant body of evidence mentioned throughout the debate that demonstrated the benefit of drug consumption rooms was considered out of context and limited by Victoria Atkins MP. She noted that in Canada Drug Consumption Rooms continued to stay open because “the Canadian Supreme Court ordered the Minister who wanted to close them to grant an exception to Insite (the provider of Drug Consumption Rooms) in order to respect the constitutional rights of facility users and staff.” She further noted that it was a constitutional issue rather than one that endorsed the effects of Drug Consumption Rooms.

This response from the UK government demonstrates the need for continued work advocating for the human rights of people living with and affected by HIV. By viewing this as an issue of criminal justice rather than health perpetuates the stigma experienced by people who inject drugs. In order to prevent new cases of HIV and to tackle stigma we must put people, health and human rights at the centre of drug policy. HIV Scotland will continue to work with politicians, and other partners to continue to raise this issue as a priority for an effective response to HIV.