Charity calls for drug "shooting galleries" to be set up in the UK

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According to an independent group of experts, Britain should set up special centres for heroin addicts to inject themselves to try to cut the risk of disease and overdose.

The study funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a charity which conducts social policy research, says the centres would provide a safe and clean place to take drugs.

Drug consumption rooms are places where dependent drug users are allowed to inject drugs in supervised, hygienic conditions.

There are approximately 65 drug consumption rooms in operation in eight countries around the world in Australia, Canada and across Europe, but there are none as yet in the UK.

Over the past decade, the UK has consistently had the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe and according to the report's findings, large quantities of syringes and drug-related litter are dropped in public places across the UK, causing considerable impact on local residents and businesses.

The British government has rejected the report's call for a trial, saying the centres could increase crime but the report's authors say the centres would help save lives and cut drug-taking in public.

Dame Ruth Runciman, chairman of the panel which compiled the report says the approach offers a unique and promising way to work with the most problematic users and lives could be saved.

While millions of drug injections have taken place in drug consumption rooms abroad, no one has died yet from an overdose, says Runciman.

For 20 months, the group reviewed the growing body of evidence, commissioned research where data was lacking, visited drug consumption rooms in five countries and interviewed relevant witnesses.

Where the proposed centres differ from unofficial injecting rooms is in that they would be supervised and drugs would not be sold.

The report says drug dealing and crime could be controlled near the centres, and highlights the fact that associated health problems such as blood-borne viruses, abscesses and cellulitis, which often result in hospitalisation, could be avoided.

The report says that shooting galleries have many advantages, they can avert drug-related deaths, prevent needle-sharing and improve the general health of users; they also cause a decrease in the numbers injecting in public places and reduce the number of discarded, used syringes and drug-related litter.

They do not appear to increase levels of acquisitive crime; were generally not associated with public order nuisance or other problems, especially with good interagency co-operation in place and they are mostly used by local drug users.

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