I've just finished listening to a phone-in discussing the issue of drug consumption rooms on BBC Radio 5 live. It was all a bit depressing, and only partially for the fact that every second caller was hysterically describing the concept as an outrage. What is really depressing is that we've already moved beyond drug consumption rooms in the UK.
We already have three centres where heroin is being provided for addicts in secure, medically supervised environments. Discussing drug consumption rooms instead moves the debate back a step from the cutting edge of good practice.
My disappointment stems from the comparative ease of selling each concept politically. It is bizarre to allow addicts to first beg, steal or borrow to raise money to purchase poor quality street heroin, only to allow them to consume whatever it is they have purchased in a clean, clinical environment. The drug itself should be extremely cheap for the state to provide. The major costs of these clinics instead stem from staffing and building costs. Drug consumption rooms require all the costs of staffing and premises, but provide none of the savings of reducing acquisitive crime and undermining the criminal market. The benefits are clear for the addict, but less clear for the community.
Clinics providing clean heroin to addicts should be a much easier sell as they can be easily marketed to locals as assisting both the addicts and the community more effectively, and for only marginally higher cost.