Wednesday, May 24, 2006

UK: Government rules out injection rooms

Police chiefs endorsed proposals, from an independent report (by the Rowntree Foundation), for a pilot programme where heroin addicts would be allowed to inject themselves in officially sanctioned centres.

The report was backed by Martin Barnes, CE of DrugScope, who said: "The international evidence in favour of piloting drug consumption rooms (DCRs) in the UK is strong and persuasive."

A UK government spokesperson rejected the proposals because, "The government's message on drugs is clear: we will not tolerate those who deal in drugs in our communities. We are of course aware of this report but believe the reasons for rejecting it in 2002 are as valid today," adding that DCRs pose a "significant risk of harm to local communities in terms of an increase in localised dealing, anti-social behaviour and acquisitive crime" and that such rooms were pointless because the current strategy was "making real inroads into tackling drug misuse".

The Lib Dems spokesman, Nick Clegg, was not in favour, but outlined a clear alternative: "There should be an expansion in the number of doctors who are allowed to prescribe maintenance doses of heroin to users, which would lead to a decline in illegal supply".

As usual, the Tory leader David Cameron was able to sound positive without actually saying anything important: "I certainly wouldn't rule them out because anything that helps get users off the streets and in touch with agencies that can provide treatment is worth looking at," however his preferred solution was a revised "system of diversion (of drug users) into treatment". Cameron's statement is perfectly in tune with the Tory's existing policy of "abstinence-based treatment" (aka cold turkey).

Transform, who campaign for drug law reform, called the government's response "irresponsible" because the report was backed up by a "mountain of evidence" and reflected the findings of five other major committees, including a home affairs select committee, that DCRs would benefit the community and users. Transform spokesman, Mr Rolles, accused the government of political cowardice in the face of pressure (presumably from the United Nations and the popular press). Mr Rolles blamed the government's resistance on their "political fear" of being seen to be soft on drugs, saying: "People are dying as a result of the government's intransigence on this issue." Martin Barnes of DrugScope said that the proposals could save lives, improve health and raise communities' quality of life.

The Report of the Independent Working Group on Drug Consumption Rooms is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and is available from York Publishing Services Ltd (01904 430033) price £16.95 plus £2.00 p&p.

We had a fascinating debate on whether to legalise drugs on my podcast

It involved Steve Rolles of Transform and Edward Garnier the Shadow Home Affairs Spokesperson who was a bit stumped when I asked him what ACTUALLY would the Tories do differently to any other government present or past to actually tackle the problem.
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