Brighton considers opening UK’s first safe drug consumption rooms

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 19 April 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2550
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

Brighton and Hove City Council is considering whether to provide rooms where drug users could use illegal drugs safely, as a way to reduce drug related deaths.

The recommendation comes from the Independent Drugs Commission for Brighton and Hove after a year long investigation into how services in the city could best reduce the harm caused by drugs.1

In 2000 Brighton was branded the “drugs death capital of the UK” when 67 people died from drug misuse. This figure has since been reduced to 20 deaths a year, but the commission said that the city still had more than 2000 problem heroin and cocaine users.

The commission conducted a series of discussions and consultations with local people, including those who take drugs or have family members with drug problems. Advisers to the commission included the police and the director of public health. The commission’s report will be considered by the council’s Safe in the City Partnership Board, which meets on 30 April, and by the city’s new health and wellbeing board.

The report said that too many people were taking drugs in the riskiest ways, mixing different substances of unknown purity, and taking them on their own with no access to emergency medical help. One of the report’s recommendations is that a working group should look at the feasibility of providing consumption rooms targeting people who are hard to reach and not engaged in treatment as part of the city’s current range of drug services. Decriminalised consumption rooms are in use in a number of countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada.

The report also said that many coroners’ reports have identified the presence of prescription only drugs in cases of death from overdose. The report calls for cautious prescribing of benzodiazepines and other tranquillisers, with particular care over repeat prescriptions. Other recommendations include separating drug services for young people from those for adults so that younger users don’t have to mix with more established users. It also recommends wider distribution of the antidote naloxone, including making it available directly to drug users.

Tom Scanlon, director of public health at Brighton and Hove, said, “We have a relatively high number of drug users in the city, and in the past we have had high numbers of drug related deaths. So we welcome these recommendations and will work closely with key partners to make sure that the ideas in the report complement our work on helping people fully recover.”

He added, “We have made progress in part by working much better across health, social care, housing, and the voluntary sector through having named key workers for clients. We trained hundreds of drug users and their partners on how to administer lifesaving antidotes in the event of opiate overdose. Crucially, we now also have a care pathway that focuses on full recovery, quickly following up on people who drop out of treatment and bringing them back into care so that they can live full, drug free lives.”

Mike Trace, vice chairman of the commission and a former deputy UK “drug tsar,” said, “I am delighted that so many people took part in this commission’s work, particularly young people, and those affected by drug use, as well as treatment and policy experts. By bringing key people together in the same room the commission has helped open up the discussion to make sure services in the city are working in the best way to reduce the harm caused by drugs.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2550