The below statement is in response to the Government’s recent rejection of Bristol Council’s request to run a pilot scheme of safe drug consumption rooms in Bristol, and was coordinated by the Green Group’s Shadow Cabinet leads for Communities, Culture, Equalities and Public Health – Councillors Barry Parsons and Ani Stafford-Townsend (pictured).
Green Councillors on Bristol City Council and the Green Party of England and Wales support Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees’ commitment to making Bristol a pilot city for the introduction of Drug Consumption Rooms and condemns the Conservative government’s short-sighted rejection of this proposal.
The Green Party is the only major party in England and Wales that has a policy for the full legalisation and regulation of all drugs. The party’s drug policy (revised and passed unanimously by party members in October 2019) includes a commitment to providing safe Drug Consumption Rooms (also known as Supervised Consumption Rooms or Overdose Prevention Centres) as part of a wider harm-reduction and public-health approach to drug use. In March 2018, then Green Councillor Cleo Lake tabled a motion to Bristol City Council asking the Mayor to commit to delivering the recommendations of a study undertaken by the Council’s substance misuse team, including the establishment of a DCR. This motion was unsuccessful, but current Bristol Green Councillors remain committed to pursuing this initiative and working with the Mayor to this end.
DCRs are legally sanctioned facilities where people can inject or smoke their own drugs, under medical supervision, in order to prevent fatal overdoses, transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, and other health harms, and with access to other health and treatment services. They can be located in permanent clinics, mobile ambulance-style units or temporary structures, and are proven to increase treatment engagement for hard-to-reach groups (in particular those who are homeless and/or injecting in public spaces).
A 2016 report from the Government’s own expert advisory group on drug use – the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) – recognizes that DCRs can help to reduce the number of deaths from opiate overdoses. International evidence demonstrates that these interventions help to reduce death rates, blood-borne disease infections and other health problems related to the injection of opiates and other drugs, hospital stays, emergency call outs, discarded drug litter, and social and crime problems associated with street drug use.
They also improve engagement and retention in treatment for otherwise difficult-to-reach vulnerable people and help to address some of the wider social issues associated with the consumption of drugs in public areas, including discarded needles. In cities such as Geneva, where supervised drug consumption rooms are available, there is not a problem with discarded needles.
By refusing to consider a change in policy the current Government not only puts the lives of vulnerable people who use drugs at risk; it also stubbornly ignores the advice of its own experts. At a time when drug-related deaths in England and Wales are increasing, instead of threatening people who wish to establish DCRs with criminal sanctions, the Government should be supporting these as an essential public health initiative.
Bristol Green Councillors will continue to campaign for drug consumption rooms as part of our commitment to the health and safety of all residents of Bristol.