At Thursday’s conference organised by Drug and Alcohol Today, the proposal for a drug consumption room was raised during the plenary session. I was a panel member and probably didn’t hold back on my views on this proposal and the report of the Independent Drugs Commission which has called for consumption rooms to be considered in Brighton and Hove.
The Argus has accurately reported today what I said: that I thought that the report had done a huge disservice to the debate on drugs in Brighton and Hove, putting the debate on drugs back five or ten years, making it almost impossible to have a reasonable debate in the media about abstinence and recovery since all the media were interested in was consumption rooms. In fact the question from the floor came from an Argus journalist, Ben James, somewhat proving my point.
At best consumption rooms will have a marginal benefit for injecting users living within a 500 meter radius of the room, meaning we would have to have to have dozens around Brighton and Hove. They are not cheap to operate as you need medically qualified staff there twenty four hours a day.
My determination to oppose any further waste of public funds, time and effort on exploring the feasibility of consumption rooms was reenforced when I attended a workshop at the conference on the work of the Commission. The bulk of the workshop focused on consumption rooms and similar matters, and no time was given at all to recovery, treatment and abstinence. The report itself talks about recovery in a half-hearted fashion towards the end of page 22 of the 23 page report.
I was pleased that others on the panel, including the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, and the chief executive of the Surrey and Sussex Probation Service, Nick Smart, expressed opposition or frustration to how the debate is being framed around consumption rooms. I was also most pleased by the reaction of the majority of those in the hall.
It feels as though those behind the report are stuck in a time warp, some ten to fifteen years ago. Public policy has moved on, not least by the drug strategy of the coalition government. The debate must be around how we can achieve greater ambition for drug users, how we can get 50, 60, 70% into treatment so that they leave free from all drugs, prescribed and street drugs.
We must be looking at how those achieving abstinence can be supported into training, work experience and, ultimately, jobs. Anything short of that will fail them since housing, benefits, and support services will continue to be squeezed as the impact of austerity grows.
I would suggest that Brighton and Hove councillors should agree that no more time and effort is spent by Council employees on exploring the ‘feasibility’ of consumption rooms. They are not affordable, and they are not what is needed.