Heroin addicts would get town centre “shooting galleries” to inject themselves legally under a controversial proposal by MPs.
The move includes booths where users can take drugs under the watchful eye of a medic – and sealed “inhalation rooms” where crack-cocaine addicts can go to smoke their pipes.
The radical proposal, to be unveiled next week, is part of a raft of reforms suggested by an influential Labour group.
Backers say the drug consumption rooms – which are already in use on the continent – would cut cases of drug deaths and diseases like HIV.
They could also tackle drug-related crime and its impact, which is estimated to cost taxpayers £20billion a year.
But critics say bringing DCRs to our towns and cities will discourage users from kicking the habit.
The proposal will be announced on Wednesday following an 18-month study by the Labour Campaign for Drug Policy Reform, which features 20 MPs.
The report accuses Prime Minister Boris Johnson and previous Tory regimes of having “no meaningful policy or programme” to cut the menace that is “scarring” our communities.
Tonight, the group’s spokesman Jeff Smith said: “Drug consumption rooms are successful at preventing overdoses. Nobody has ever died at one of these facilities and they connect people with advice and support. We need to give them permission to operate.”
The call for DCRs comes just weeks after figures showed Britain has the worst drug problem in Europe – with more people taking and dying from narcotics here than any other country.
More 15-year-olds are now using drugs too, according to the Government’s United Kingdom Drug Situation report for 2019.
The report, by the Home Office and Public Health England, shows we have the highest rate of drug use recorded in the past 10 years – with cannabis, cocaine, MDMA, ketamine and amphetamines the most widely used.
Experts warn that the country is on a “cliff-edge of crisis” and drastic action must be taken.
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, David Jamieson, called for “a major rethink of drugs policy”.
He said: “We need a sensible national conversation about how we can reduce the harm, crime and huge cost to the taxpayer from drugs. Despite the huge effort of different agencies, collectively, drugs policy is failing.
“We need to treat those suffering from drug addiction as having a medical problem, rather than as criminals.
“By properly supporting those with an addiction, we will actually reduce the harm from drugs, crime caused by those stealing to feed their addiction and ultimately save the taxpayer money.
"This will also deny the market to those who are making a profit out of people’s misery.”
A report last year claimed that just 20 heroin addicts in Middlesbrough carried out 400 detected criminal offences in two years, at a cost of £800,000 to taxpayers.
Jason Harwin, assistant chief constable of Cleveland Police and drugs spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, warned we are facing a “national emergency”.
But Tory crime minister Kit Malthouse branded the plans for DCRs as a “distraction”.
And Adrian Crossley, of the Centre for Social Justice think-tank, called the plans “very worrying”.
He said: “We need to properly design and fund services aimed at helping people to full recovery before targeting policies to merely keep them alive.”
DCRs are widely used in Europe and users can exchange hard drugs like heroin and crack for substitutes, along with sterile injection kits.
The first facility of its type opened in Switzerland more than 30 years ago and there are currently more than 70 such sites worldwide.
None of them have ever recorded an overdose death, campaigners claim. Under a scheme set up in Scotland, a mobile drugs van is helping addicts in Glasgow take drugs safely.
But police have warned the unit’s founder, Peter Krykant, that he is breaking the law.
In June, it was claimed police forces had quietly introduced policies to let users of class A drugs, including heroin, dodge prosecution.
At least four forces have let people caught with the drugs for personal use avoid court if they agree to undergo treatment. Police and crime commissioners say the policy avoids criminalising young people and can be more effective than prison or fines.
But experts warn it should not pave the way for decriminalisation or undermine any messages about the dangers of drugs.
The Home Office is conducting a review of drugs policy but ministers have so far ruled out decriminalisation or legalisation.
A spokeswoman said yesterday: “Our approach to drugs is clear – we must prevent drug use in our communities, support people through treatment and recovery and tackle the supply of illegal drugs.
“We have no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms.
“Anyone running them would be committing a range of offences, including possession of a controlled drug and being concerned in the supply of a controlled drug.
“We are committed to tackling drug misuse.”
Spoon feeding help to city’s vulnerable
Like many offices, Cedric Chervet’s workplace has a pile of spoons – but they are used for shooting up, not brewing up.
Addicts heat their heroin on a spoon before injecting it into their veins, and it is all completely legal.
Cedric runs a drug consumption room in Amsterdam. It opened in 1998 due to rising HIV infections and drug deaths.
Like the 70 other DCRs worldwide – in cities such as Hamburg, Geneva and Paris – the centre is open daily and offers a sterile, safe place for users.
About 18 people use it each day, and twice that at the weekend.
Cedric said: “There was support from City Hall and the police.
“It makes no sense to arrest people, jail them for the night and the next day they are released.
“The police force want to be catching the big fish, they don’t want to be social workers for those using.”
In the late 1980s, there were 30,000 drug users in Amsterdam. Now there are 30,000 drug users registered in the whole of the Netherlands.
Cedric said a night in a Dutch prison for a drug user cost around £270, compared to £4.50 for use of the DCR.
For - and against
Alex Stevens, professor in criminal justice at the University of Kent, said: "Drug consumption rooms are a sensible proposal. They save lives.
"There are more than 70 of them all over the world in 13 countries and they provide a safe place to inject while reducing the risk of overdose and deaths.
"Given the UK has the highest ever rate of drug-related deaths, the Government must give agencies the power to set them up.
"There’s no benefit from criminalising low-level offenders – it harms them and it’s a financial drain on the taxpayer."
Kevin Sabet, former US drug policy tsar and head of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said: "Those with substance use disorder need help and a science-based strategy to meet their needs.
"The recommendations in the Labour report reflect a lack of a plan to help users mitigate drug use and its harms, as well as satisfy science around drug use.
"These rooms won’t help drug users. It will further bury them in a disease which they are hopelessly fighting against.
"We don’t want to lock up those who need help, but maintaining addiction is not the answer.
"Helping victims of drug dealers and drug industries requires a forceful combination of treatment, prevention and recovery."
Mum: It would have saved my two sons
In 2003, Rose Humphries’ youngest son Roland died from a heroin overdose at 23 after desperately fighting to get clean.
Eleven years later, she lost son Jake to the drug, aged 37. He had been unable to cope with his brother’s death.
Yet despite the double tragedy, Rose, now 75, is a strong advocate for legal regulation.
And she said that if her children had access to drug consumption rooms, they may have taken advantage of the counselling or other facilities there – or had vital medical attention that would have saved their lives.
Retired secretary Rose, who lives with husband Jeremy in Bromsgrove, Worcs, said: “Nobody has ever died anywhere in the world in a drug consumption room.
“It may have saved my sons. I think the public believes that drugs are so terrible and these facilities encourage drugs. I don’t think it will encourage it.
“My view is that people have always taken drugs and we’re never going to stop them wanting to. If it was regulated by the Government, sold in clearly labelled packages and produced safely, there would be fewer deaths and fewer street dealers.”