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Home Office has 'no plans' to introduce drug use rooms in Northern Ireland

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William Burns, whose son Jamie died due to drugs

William Burns, whose son Jamie died due to drugs

William Burns, whose son Jamie died due to drugs

The Home Office has said it has no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms in the UK.

It comes after Northern Ireland's chief medical officer suggested consideration should be given to providing rooms where people can inject themselves with illegal drugs.

Michael McBride said there was a need to consider "alternative models such as consumption rooms" to deal with the significant problem of drug users injecting in public places.

Official figures released this week showed 101 drug-related deaths among men and 35 among women here in 2017.

In an interview with the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, Dr McBride said health professionals had seen a clear increase in heroin use among patients in recent years.

"My own view on this is that, from what I have read, we need to look at all options which can reduce the harm associated with intravenous drug misuse," he said.

"Yes, we have reduced the risk of overdose through making available since 2012 Naloxone, but we also need to look at whether or not there are other alternative models such as consumption rooms."

He admitted such decisions would be controversial and would be "a matter for a minister and an Executive in due course".

The PSNI said the introduction of drug consumption rooms would require new laws.

Belfast man William Burns (51), who launched 'One Pill Will Kill' campaign after his 23-year-old son Jamie died in November 2016, said he was conflicted over Dr McBride's suggestion.

"You are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. If you had a room for them to take it in that might save lives," he said.

"They could have people there who could offer them support. But then on the other hand, are you agreeing with them taking drugs? If there had been somewhere for my son to take it safely he might still be here. There has to be a fresh approach."

Charlie Mack from the charity Extern, which helps people with drug use, said: "Every day Extern sees the impact of the increase in drug and alcohol misuse in people's lives here.

"There are at least 58 people alive in Belfast today because Extern's staff were there to administer Naloxone to them during the last year.

"Figures like this highlight how we urgently need to begin to have a serious, honest and courageous conversation about how, as a society, we are going to best support people living with chronic drug dependency.

"This is an increasingly complex issue, and there are many parts of this puzzle which need to be put in place.

"A medically supervised injecting centre may be a possible piece of that, but we also need to see increased and sustainable funding around these types of services, and importantly, additional investment in the rehabilitation and residential support services which enable people to move on from being dependent on drugs and alcohol."

PSNI Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton said: "As the law currently stands it is illegal to take or permit any premises to be used for the purposes of taking opium, therefore the introduction of drug consumption rooms would require legislative reform.

"PSNI is prepared to contribute to the debate around this issue, with a view to keeping people safe and reducing the harm associated with drug misuse.

"Currently, the PSNI has a clear statutory responsibility to enforce the law under the Misuse of Drugs Act regarding the supply, sale and use of illegal drugs."

The Home Office said: "There is no legal framework for the provision of Drug Consumption Rooms in the UK and we have no plans to introduce them.

"This Government's position on drugs remains clear.

"We must prevent drug use in our communities and support people dependent on drugs through treatment and recovery.

"Our Drug Strategy sets out a balanced approach which brings together police, health, community and global partners to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with a drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around."

Belfast Telegraph