The European Union's drug monitoring agency, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (http://www.emcdda.eu.int) this week released a report on the benefits and risks of safe injection sites (or "consumption rooms"), where injection drug users shoot up under medical supervision. Its findings stand in stark contrast with last week's report from the International Narcotics Control Board, which called such facilities "a grave concern" and said they violated international drug control treaties (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/327/incbreport.shtml).
The EMDCCA was more concerned with practicality than legality, noting early on that it would not get involved in the debate over whether the sites violate international law. Instead, the agency's report provided a history of the growth of safe injection sites -- the first government-approved site was in Berne, Switzerland, in 1986, and they can now be found in Australia, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands as well -- examined what they set out to accomplish, and evaluated how they did.
The EMCDDA identified the primary goals for the sites as increasing public health and safety (i.e. by reducing drug use overall), decreasing death and illness among their users, and "stabilizing and promoting" client health. At the same time, the report examined whether the sites increased problems associated with public drug consumption or drug-related crime in their neighborhoods.
According to the report's conclusion, the research it reviewed suggested "that consumption rooms do achieve some of the specific purposes for which they were set up. They reach a population of long-term problem drug users with various health and social problems. They provide a hygienic environment for drug use and, for regular attenders at least, decrease exposure to risks of infectious diseases. They contribute to a reduction in levels of risk-taking among their clients and increase access for specific 'hard-to reach' target populations of drug users to health, welfare and drug treatment services. They provide immediate emergency help in case of overdose, and can make a contribution to the reduction of overdose deaths at community level."
And they can do so without disrupting public order, the report added. "As long as there is sufficient capacity and coverage in terms of location and opening hours, as well as consultation with residents and police, consumption rooms can reduce the level of drug use in public places and help to reduce public nuisance," EMCDDA concluded. "There is no evidence that consumption rooms encourage increased drug use or initiate new users. There is little evidence that by providing better conditions for drug consumption they perpetuate drug use in clients who would otherwise discontinue consuming drugs such as heroin or cocaine, nor that they undermine treatment goals. When managed in consultation with local authorities and police, they do not increase public order problems by increasing local drug scenes or attracting drug users and dealers from other areas."
It can only be hoped that the next time US drug czar John Walters goes to Vancouver to criticize the safe injection site there, someone will ask him about what the Europeans have found.
To read "European Report on Drug Consumption Rooms" online, visit http://www.emcdda.eu.int/responses/themes/consumption_rooms.cfm or http://www.emcdda.eu.int/multimedia/project_reports/responses/consumption_rooms_report.pdf online.