Sharing of injecting equipment by people who use drugs leads to infections, such as Hepatitis C or HIV. Discarded needles on the streets are not welcomed by people who live in the area. The solution does not lie in the hands of the police – arresting people who use drugs does not reduce the number of drug users, but pushes them to use in a more risky way, and to discard their needles as soon as possible. The old ways of fighting drug problems don’t work. This is a campaign to find new solutions – to provide room for change.
If we create rooms where drug users can use their drugs with sterile equipment in a supervised environment, we can reduce the risk of overdoses and infections and we can reduce nuisance and drug litter on our streets! The Room for Change campaign aims to promote pragmatic solutions to drug problems - please scroll down to find more information about problems and real solutions that have proved effective in many big cities of the world! If you agree that punishment is not the real solution, please sign our petition!
Open drug scenes – People who inject drugs often live in the margins of society: they have no jobs, home or family. They spend most of their life on the streets, searching for drugs, which they tend to use in dark alleys and doorways, in unhygienic conditions. This causes nuisance in the neighborhood. They share their syringes and needles, which they often drop at the scene in order to avoid police arrest.
Infections – Every third HIV infection outside Sub-Saharan Africa is associated with the sharing of injecting equipment. Another less well-known virus, Hepatitis C, is even more infectious and now spreading among injecting drug users faster than in any other groups. Treating the diseases caused by these viruses costs far more than preventing them by distributing clean injecting equipment and providing a hygienic environment.
Photo: Ben art core
New outbreaks of HIV in Europe – For a long time, rates of HIV infection among drug users in most European countries have remained low. This situation is now changing, as a consequence of the financial crisis in Europe. Public health and social services are often the first victims of financial austerity measures. Cities like Athens, Bucharest and Sofia have seen huge outbreaks of HIV infections among people who use drugs. We know, from the example of other countries, that an epidemic does not stop at drug users – it spreads to the general population, through unprotected sex.
Legal highs – In 2009, there was an unprecedented surge in new synthetic drugs in Europe. These drugs, often dubbed ‘legal highs’ by the media, are not on the list of illicit drugs, but they mimic the effects of those drugs. In some cities, such as Budapest and Bucharest, thousands of drug users have started to inject these drugs. While heroin is injected three-four times a day, these drugs are injected 10-15 times a day – leading to a greater risk of infection.
Drug litter – Used needles and syringes, cups, and other drug-related litter are an everyday occurrence in those parts of town where people inject on the street. Although there are still no recorded incidents of a member of the public contracting a bloodborne disease from a discarded needle or syringe, this litter will often generate fear, anger, disgust and frustration.
More policemen patrolling the streets and arresting people who use drugs will not lead to less drug use, or less litter. On the contrary, fear of the police can drive drug users to discard their needles as soon as possible. There is evidence that restricting access to clean needles will not lead to fewer people using drugs on the streets, but to the sharing of injecting equipment, and therefore, new infections. Overcrowded prisons are a hotbed of injecting drug use and related infections.
Harm Reduction – for active drug injectors, we need to provide sterile injecting equipment and a safe environment where they can use drugs without disturbing others, contracting infections or dying of overdose. These programs should serve as entry points to other services!
Law enforcement – to protect communities, the police should keep public places safe, by directing people who use drugs to drug consumption rooms.
This is what we call a four-pillar approach. Each city needs to create its own drug strategy based on these four pillars, appoint drug coordinators, and allocate an adequate budget to implement the strategies. Cities which introduced this approach could achieve great success in reducing street drug use and related harms. The first cities to experiment with this approach were in Switzerland, where the first drug consumption room was introduced in 1986. Several other cities followed their example, in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Australia,Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Norway. A drug consumption room was opened in Athens in 2013, and soon Paris and Lisbon will be next. Currently there are more than 90 consumption rooms operating in these countries. While not increasing drug use at all, they have already saved many lives. Not a single fatality has happened on their premises.
More and more cities are realising that punishing people who use drugs just creates more problems – but if we create safe and hygienic environments supervised by health and social care staff, we can reduce overdoses, street drug use with all its nuisance, drug litter, and infections. And, as a bonus, these rooms can also help drug-dependent people get into treatment!
Safer consumption rooms are not a luxury - they are an investment which will benefit the whole of society, not just drug users! In those cities where drug consumption rooms have been introduced
Drug users no longer use drugs in dark alleys and parks, but in supervised rooms;
Drug users use sterile equipment and do not share their needles;
Drug-dependent people are motivated and able to access treatment programs, and more people will stop their use of drugs;
Drug litter is safely discarded as dangerous waste in drug consumption rooms, and not a single needle gets out onto our streets;
If someone suffers a drug overdose in the room, health professionals can immediately intervene.
Learn more about drug consumption rooms on the website of the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addictions!
If you support our campaign for making our cities safer, please take action and sign the petition!