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The Glasgow fix rooms: a shift in attitude towards addiction?

Glasgow City Joint Integration Board has approved a plan for ‘fix rooms’, which would, in principle, provide medical-grade heroin for drug users to inject in supervised hospital rooms.

Glasgow has some of the worst rates of heroin addiction in Scotland, with around 5,500 injecting drug users, up to 500 of whom inject in public places.

This can be seen in the BBC’s discarded needles map, which shows 2,438 needles reported in Glasgow over the past two years. Last year, drug-related deaths in Glasgow rose by 15 per cent.

The aim of the ‘fix rooms’ is to give long-term addicts better access to preventative healthcare and reduce risky injecting behaviours. It is expected some ‘wrap around’ services will be provided, including counselling, with the long-term goal of helping users to recover from addiction.

Switzerland first pioneered the use of fix rooms in 1986 and now has 23 clinics across the country that treat roughly 2,200 drug users, which equates to six per cent of the nation’s heroin addicts.

Swiss clinics claim the intervention has “slashed crime, misery, and disease associated with hard-core drug addiction.”

Methadone is the leading heroin alternative used for addiction treatment in the UK. However, a study carried out in Vancouver found participants were more likely to stick with heroin-assisted treatment programs.

Trials with heroin-assisted treatment in London, Darlington and Brighton showed that after six months, three-quarters of participants had largely stopped injecting street heroin.

Furthermore, there was a radical decrease in the number of crimes committed by those in the study group.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction research has shown self-injecting facilities do not increase drug use or rates of local drug-related crime. Does this denote a shift in the public consciousness, viewing addicts as ‘sick’ citizens rather than ‘bad’ ones? Hopefully the answer is yes.

However, the new project is not without its critics. Professor Neil McKeganey, founder of the Centre of Drug Misuse Research, told the BBC that: “For anyone who’s not an advocate of drugs decriminalisation, [the fix rooms] are controversial and they will be seen as such.”

A survey of over 1,000 drug addicts in Scotland found that the vast majority wanted help to quit completely, but only five per cent were interested in injecting more safely.

Professor McKeganey went on to say, “these facilities have a role to play but there is a real danger we are moving away from services to get addicts off drugs.”

The Scottish Drugs Forum director, David Liddell, says the fix rooms will be “in addition to the existing provision.”

He went on to say “the key point is we have people who are mostly long-term users – people have been using for more than 20 years or more. Abstinence recovery is not on their immediate horizon. The most immediate thing for these individuals is the need to keep them alive so they can recover in the future.”

Image: Alanah Knibb

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