The upper house of Germany's Parliament voted last Friday (2/25) to legalize safe injecting rooms (SIRs) for drug users in cities that have their state's approval for the programs. Under a compromise with conservative-led states, SIRs must offer counseling along with sterile syringes and other harm reduction services. The lower house approved the measure last Thursday.
Frankfurt public health director Werner Schneider hailed the vote as a victory in the struggle for more effective and humane drug policies. "The legalization of SIRs is a big success for German cities that have been developing harm reduction approaches over the last decade," he told The Week Online via e-mail. Frankfurt was the first city to implement injecting rooms in Germany, he said. Much of the research on the success of SIRs in reducing overdose and disease among drug users has been conducted at SIRs in Germany and Switzerland.
At least 13 injecting rooms have operated in several cities over the past ten years, illegally but with the tacit support of local police. Although the law opens the door for new programs, Schneider said some SIR advocates say the application process outlined in the law is too bureaucratic, and that the final decision of whether a program is allowed should be up to the city, not the state government.
In its annual report released last week, the United Nations International Drug Control Board warned that state-approved injection rooms might violate international drug control treaties. But public health experts, armed with studies that show SIRs work, may have the last word in this drug war skirmish. "The vote in Germany sends a very strong message to the international community in terms of drug policy reform, and against the drug war," Schneider said.