A minibus that has been converted into the UK’s first mobile drug consumption room has arrived in Bristol.
The team behind the ‘Overdose Prevention Centre’ say it provides a hygienic space where people can take drugs while supervised by staff who know how to treat anyone who overdoses.
But the space is unofficial and the Home Office has warned it breaks the law.
The OPC was founded in Glasgow by Peter Krykant who says he and its staff helped supervise more than 1,000 injections by people using illegal drugs,
and treated multiple overdoses.
Now, it is being launched in Bristol by Transform Drug Policy Foundation.
According to the most recent figures from Bristol’s health and local authorities, there are almost 5,000 active crack and heroin users in the area – making it the second-highest drug-dependent city in England.
In 2019, there were 41 drug-related deaths, and 38 in 2020 – a rate of 8.9 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of five.
Drug consumption spaces are common sights around the world but not in the UK.
Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire first called for drug consumption spaces to be allowed by the Government in 2017.
But when Bristol’s police, council and health authorities drew up a five-year plan to reduce drug use that included drug consumption rooms, they found the law would need to be changed for the project to be done officially.
In September, deputy mayor Cllr Asher Craig told the Government Bristol would be interested in ‘piloting’ a drug consumption room – but the answer was no.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: ‘The Government has no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms in the UK.
‘A range of crimes would be committed in the course of running such a facility, by both service users and staff, such as possession of a controlled drug, being concerned in the supply of a controlled drug, knowingly permitting the supply of a controlled drug on a premises or encouraging or assisting these and other offences.
‘Our approach on drugs remains clear – we must prevent drug use in our communities, support people through treatment and recovery, and tackle the supply of illegal drugs.’
Nonetheless, the OPC launching in Bristol has supporters.
Martin Powell, from Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: ‘There is consistent evidence they are effective in reducing harms, and that they give local police a mechanism to address street injection drug use in a way that promotes public safety.
‘With the agreement of local police, Bristol can, and should, open one now- with or without Government permission.’
Peter who founded the OPC bus in 2020, said the sheer number of people who have used it in Glasgow showed it was needed.
‘When I started the Overdose Prevention Service in 2020 it was always
about showing that our drug laws are outdated and not fit for purpose.
‘However given the scale of mass street injecting, discarded needles,
deaths and other health issues, we now need official sites across the
UK. That must include Bristol,’ he said.
Bristol City Council has been contacted for comment.
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