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Drug rooms should be considered for Northern Ireland, says medical chief

 

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Consumption rooms would allow users to safely inject drugs like heroin

Consumption rooms would allow users to safely inject drugs like heroin

Consumption rooms would allow users to safely inject drugs like heroin

Facilities where people can safely inject themselves with illegal drugs should be considered for Northern Ireland, a medical chief has said.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said the use of "consumption rooms" could stem the problem of users injecting in public places and reduce the risk of drug overdoses.

He was speaking after it emerged that drug-related deaths among men in Northern Ireland have almost doubled in the last ten years.

Figures show that 101 of the 136 such deaths in 2017 were males, compared to 51 in 2007.

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Dr McBride said health professionals have seen an increase in the use of heroin among patients in recent years.

"My own view on this is that we need to look at all options that can reduce the harm associated with intravenous drug misuse," he told BBC NI.

"Yes, we have reduced the risk of overdose through making available Naloxone, but we also need to look at whether or not there are other alternative models such as consumption rooms.

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Dr Michael McBride said consumption rooms should be considered. (Paul Faith/PA)

Dr Michael McBride said consumption rooms should be considered. (Paul Faith/PA)

Dr Michael McBride said consumption rooms should be considered. (Paul Faith/PA)

"Ultimately, decisions of that nature will be a matter for a minister in an executive in due course."

Naloxone is a drug used to reverse the effects of an opiate overdose. According to the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, the drug has been administered 1,845 times since 2016 - with the rate steadily increasing each year.

Consumption rooms have been successfully introduced elsewhere in Europe, however Dr McBride said it was a "complex issue" and some fear they could encourage addicts to continue injecting hard drugs.

"I don't think it's a problem that's going to go away any time soon," he said.

"We're beginning to make progress in some areas, but this is a complex issue, there are no simple solutions."

Measures have already been taken in some parts of Northern Ireland to deal with the problem of drug users discarding used needles in public places.

Several parks across Belfast have had "sharps bins" installed, where used needles can be safely dispose of.

Needle exchange programs also operate in various pharmacies across Northern Ireland.

Earlier this month, the Belfast Drug and Alcohol Coordination Team and charity Extern hosted a conference to learn how about how other countries are responding to injecting drug use.

Seamus Mullen said with "significant numbers" of users injecting drugs, "it is vital that we continue to explore how we can further engage with this vulnerable group to reduce the risks to them and to others, and to support them into treatment."


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