West Midlands' police and crime commissioner (PPC) is proposing the use of drug consumption rooms in an attempt to rethink ways to reduce the harms of drug use and tackle the underlying causes of crime.
The West Midlands drugs strategy published by PCC David Jamieson has been widely commended as "leading the way with innovative local approaches" based on its view that drug-use is largely a health issue.
Mr Jamieson aims to divert those suffering with addiction away from courts and into rehabilitation by joining up with community safety and public health funding schemes that look to improve outcomes for addicts.
The proposals come under the premise that those suffering from addiction "should be treated as having a health problem, not just as criminals", a stance supported by the recent Lammy Review of disproportionality in the criminal justice system. The review praised Turning Point, West Midlands Police’s pilot diversion scheme, for finding some offenders were better dealt with through a diversion programme compared to the court process.
Research conducted for the West Midlands PCC and published in October 2017 found that the annual cost of drugs misuse to the region totalled £1.4 billion.
Every three days someone in West Midlands dies from drug poisoning, and one every four hours in England.
“If we are to cut crime and save lives there’s one thing we can all agree on: we need fresh ideas,” Mr Jamieson said. “These are bold but practical proposals that will reduce crime, the cost to the public purse and the terrible harm caused by drugs.
“By the end of my term of office in 2020, I hope many of these proposals are in place and having an effect – reducing crime, but also the suffering of those addicted to drugs. These proposals will save the public sector money by reducing the strain on services that currently exists.” The report includes the following recommendations:
Providing drug consumption rooms where users can be administered drugs under staff supervision. This has shown to prevent the number of overdoses and contraction of HIV and Hepatitis C;
Training and equipping police officers with the application of 'naxolene', a drug that counteracts the event of an overdose; and
Safety testing drugs at late-night parties and festivals. This both reduces risk of any drug related harm and gather intelligence on drugs that are actually in circulation.
The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners national lead for Alcohol and Substance Misuse, Hardyal Dhindsa, said: "Drug abuse isn’t a problem that can be addressed by policing alone, nor should it be, and the terrible cost of destructive drug use cannot be overlooked.
“Police and crime commissioners across England and Wales are leading the way with innovative local approaches to address the underlying factors which fuel these problems, as recommended by the Government’s 2017 Drugs Strategy, and our commitment to supporting the most vulnerable in society is matched by our continued support for tough national action to take on the organised crime gangs which profit from their misery."
Chief Executive of Release (national centre of expertise on drugs), Niamh Eastwood, said that "by refocusing drug policy towards public health rather than criminalisation, the implementation of these proposals would go a long way in reducing the country's spiralling number of drug related deaths and helping some of society's most vulnerable people."
The wave of support for the proposals include Babafemi Dada, Govenor of HMP Featherston; Rose Humphries, of the Anyone's Child Project, and Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health.
However, the Home Office stressed that the use of drug consumption rooms opposes public policy and is not accounted for in law. A spokesperson said: “This Government has no plans whatsoever to introduce Drug Consumption Rooms. There is no legal framework for the provision of Drug Consumption Rooms in the UK.
“A range of offences is likely to be committed in the operation of drug consumption rooms. We expect local police forces to enforce the law in such circumstances."