A new harm reduction scheme may make Brighton the first city in the UK to provide a safe place for addicts to use illegal drugs.
The new drug rooms are part of a larger plan recommended by an independent commission put together to advise Brighton and Hove City Council. These rooms would be an integral part of what is known in the addiction industry as a harm reduction strategy. The goal of harm reduction is not necessarily to get people off of a drug but keep them from harming themselves or others.
The drug use rooms, or shooting galleries as they are sometimes referred to, provide medical professionals to oversee the administration of drugs. They also provide Naloxone which helps prevent fatal overdoses, new clean needles and other equipment. This helps guard against overdoses and takes a huge step towards preventing disease.
These rooms even separate older entrenched drug users from newer users to help stop heavy users from influencing their younger counterparts.
Mike Trace, the vice-chairman for the drug use rooms commission told the BBC, “We have said to the authorities in Brighton that you need to look at this because it's something that could reduce drug-related deaths - which is an issue in the city - but also because it could take a lot of the public drug use and drug markets off the street."
The drug-use rooms may also provide other more controversial services. Some drug-use rooms actually dole out their own diamorphine (medical-grade heroin). The idea behind this is to remove demand for street drugs which hurts illegal dealers and provides a safe and pure supply of narcotics for users. Opponents of this particular service say that the gains made in harm reduction might be overshadowed by the fact that the government is actually helping users get high rather than treating them.
One such opponent is Chip Somers, the Chief Executive for Focus 12, an abstinence based rehabilitation centre. In an interview with the Today Program he said, "We've got the balance between providing addicts with care and harm reduction techniques completely out of proportion and we're now colluding with really quite poor lifestyle choice and in this case illegal behaviour."
Another controversial portion of the drug-use rooms stems from the legal grey area they create. Drugs like heroin and cocaine are both still illegal so any drug-rooms will need to acquire some form of legal exemption before they are able to open.
Along with the legal issues, there is the cost associated with running these rooms. Some opponents say that the money used to run the rooms would be better spend putting addicts through full detox and treatment programs. Supporters counter saying that entrenched addicts are often not interested in quitting and if they are not yet willing to give 100% to get clean, the best strategy is harm reduction.
No matter which side you support, it has become very clear that Brighton and Hove are in need of a better solution to its drug problem. Out of the 270,000 residents of the city, 60,000 have used drugs. Included in this figure are the more than 2,000 problem cocaine and heroin users.
Currently, there are decriminalised drug-use rooms running in Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Switzerland, Canada and Australia.