Health Committee recommends drugs decriminalisation and consumption room pilots

A new report published today by the cross-party parliamentary Health & Social Care Select Committee has highlighted the need for widescale radical change in the approach to drug use, including the decriminalisation of drug possession and recommending measures such as drug consumption rooms and drug checking services. 

The report, which focuses on improving treatments and reducing harms, comes after statistics showed a 16% increase in drug-related deaths in England and Wales. The latest figures from the ONS show an increase in the number of drug-related deaths recorded in Bristol, reaching a joint-record rate of available statistics.

Between 2016-2018, 118 deaths were recorded as drug-related at a rate of 9.3 per 100,000 people in Bristol dying from drug-related issues. This is up on the previously recorded period (2015-2017) and the joint-highest of the recorded from 2001-2003.

The report has also recommended piloting drug consumption rooms in 'areas of high need', modelled on the 'Frankfurt way' after the German city's success in cutting drug-related deaths in the region by 44%. 

Jason Harwin, Deputy Chief Constable of the National Police Chief Council, gave the following helpful explanation of DCRs:

"Drug consumption rooms have an evidence base showing that they work, but again it has to be part of a wider whole-system approach and a public health response.

"It has to be done with an understanding of what you are trying to achieve from a drug consumption room. It is not just about allowing people to take illicit drugs: it is about safety; it is about stopping drug overdoses; and, importantly, it is about the wraparound of other services to try, ultimately, to take the person away from illicit drugs, to manage their need for drugs and put them into other services … I always argue that drug consumption rooms exist, without the title, in some people’s houses, realistically, and people are dying there."

Bristol has one of the highest levels of drug use in the country. The BBC3 documentary 'Drugsland' focused its first episode of Hepburn Road in Stoke's Croft, locally referred to as 'crack alley' due to its popularity as a 'shoot up' spot for users. 

Bristol City Council came under criticism in August for failing to develop a strategy for the city's drug problem, with the city's Deputy Mayor admitting that they did not have one. 

James Cox, Liberal Democrat MP candidate for Bristol West, said:

"I welcome the report from the Health & Social Care Select Committee for both its new approach and its content. It is vital that we radically change our approach to drugs from one based on criminal justice to one based on health and education. 

"Liberal Democrats have long called for comprehensive drugs reform and I'm glad the report recommends possession being decriminalised and the introduction of treatment and harm reduction techniques including improved addiction and mental health services as well as drug checking services such as those currently provided by groups like the Loop. 

"The report also recommends that drug consumption rooms be piloted in areas of 'high need'. I believe Bristol qualifies as one of these areas and I have written to the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor to ensure that drug consumption rooms are part of any forthcoming drugs strategy. 

"Lives are torn apart by drugs and communities suffer, but I believe every death from the result of drug use is preventable. It is clear the war on drugs has failed and that a new approach that treats addiction rather than punishing it must be brought forward. It's time we were driven by evidence rather than dogma. We can begin this approach in Bristol."

Picture of Bristol West MP Candidate James Cox & Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Ed Davey visiting Bristol Drugs Project

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