People who inject drugs show huge support for drug consumption rooms

The vast majority of people who inject drugs at greatest risk of drug-related harm in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland would be willing to use drug consumption rooms (DCRs), according to a new study by researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Kirsten Trayner, lead researcher in the study which interviewed 1469 people who inject drugs, said: “Our findings suggest that this intervention has the potential to reach those most at risk of death and disease, which adds to existing evidence of the important role that drug consumption rooms could have in addressing the country’s drugs crisis.”

It is the first research of its kind in Scotland and first national study to determine the willingness of people who inject drugs to use DCRs, published in The International Journal of Drug Policy. The research was completed in light of proposals by officials in Glasgow to introduce the UK’s first DCR, to respond to the ongoing HIV outbreak in the city and drug-related death crisis.

The study highlights that despite attracting widespread support from the Scottish Government, local authorities, health officials and the police, these proposals have been repeatedly rejected by the UK government, on the basis of a lack of an appropriate legal framework for operation of a DCR, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The UK government reiterated its objection to DCRs at the UK Drug-Related Deaths summit, held in Glasgow in February, says the study. DCRs are professionally supervised healthcare facilities where people can consume drugs in safer conditions. They are used successfully in countries in Europe, Canada and Australia and often introduced in cities such as Vancouver and Sydney in response to public health crises among people who inject drugs.

PhD researcher Kirsten said: “Willingness to use a drug consumption room was extremely high across all regions in Scotland and among key risk groups, including those who reported homelessness, cocaine injecting and public injecting. The vast majority of people said they would use a drug consumption room if it was introduced in their area. It shows that this intervention will attract those most at risk of different drug-related harms, particularly HIV and overdose in Scotland. They have the potential to make a big impact in areas where they are introduced.

“This is the first research of its kind in Scotland, and particularly important given the recent proposals to establish a drug consumption room in Glasgow city centre. We have also been able to demonstrate that people injecting drugs in city centres, both in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland, would be willing to use a drug consumption room. This is important as they are normally established in city centres close to drug markets and where injecting in public places occurs.

“The case for drug consumption rooms on the impact they can have on drug-related harms alone is compelling. However, other research has shown that the voices of people who use drugs has been missing from the debate until now. We hope that this research contributes to the ongoing debate for the need for drug consumption rooms in Scotland, particularly in Glasgow.”

Results showed 75 per cent of people who inject drugs in Scotland were willing to use DCRs but higher among those interviewed in city centres including Glasgow at 83 per cent. Willingness was greater among people who reported injecting heroin (76%), cocaine (79%), and those with experiences of homelessness (86%), public injecting (87%) and recent overdose (80%).

Kirsten was part of a team of 11 field workers, who collected data across Scotland using a detailed questionnaire which examined a range of demographics and behaviours such as homelessness, the type of drugs injected, drug treatment and incarceration history – all questions which were related to an individual’s injecting risk.

The team also took dry blood spot tests which are tested anonymously for HIV and hepatitis C to help researchers better understand the prevalence of blood borne viruses among those involved in the study.

Kirsten completed this research as part of her PhD and worked with other members of the University’s Blood Borne Viruses research group, including well-known drugs expert Dr Andrew McAuley, to produce the research, in collaboration with Health Protection Scotland, West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre in Glasgow, the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Alcohol and Drug Recovery Services and Liverpool John Moores University.

The research concluded: “The vast majority of people who inject drugs at greatest risk of drug-related harm in Glasgow and elsewhere in Scotland would be willing to use a DCR, supporting proposals for the introduction of DCRs nationally”.

Kirsten said: “Drug consumption rooms are a really important intervention but it’s good to remember that they don’t hold the answer to all of Scotland’s problems with drug-related harms. They need to be implemented within a package of lots of different harm reduction interventions that includes easily accessible drug treatment, widespread availability of clean injecting equipment, and take-home naloxone for those at risk of overdose.”

This research follows on from another study published in January, in which Kirsten is also lead author. The study focussed on public injecting (injecting in outdoor locations) and found that people who inject drugs in Glasgow city centre are more likely to inject in public.

The research revealed that a high level of public injecting was also a driver of the recent increase in HIV in the city. It was also a risk factor for hepatitis C, recent overdose and skin and soft tissue infections. DCRs are a key intervention to address the issue of public injecting. The study therefore concluded the findings added weight to the calls for a drug consumption room in Glasgow.

Listen to Kirsten’s Podcast here

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