Are drugs consumption rooms the answer to public heroin use?

Drugs consumption rooms have been opened in several countries across Europe. Credit: ITV News

Growing signs of heroin being used in Manchester's public parks and streets has prompted calls to find a more radical solution to public drug taking.

An ITV News investigation found dozens of needles and cooking spoons in the corner of just one park.

And it's not just a potential risk to the public.

The grim reality for many addicts is that they have easy access to drugs - but no where to take them. Injecting in dirty parks and alleyways, it's challenging to keep needles and skin clean.

Heroin users told us that using in such spaces was leading to health problems among the homeless community - including HIV and septicaemia.


In the 20 years of my addiction, I have lost a bare minimum of 30 of my close friends. They all overdosed and died through addiction. A number of people who have lost limbs, they've lost their legs. I used to say to myself - come on now, if that's not a deterrent I don't know what is. But here I am in my 40s and I'm still struggling.

Matt (not his real name), heroin user

The drug support service Change, Grow, Live believes that increased drugs litter is partially down to heroin users losing the more remote brownfield sites where they used to inject.

Users are being driven to more visible spots such as city centre parks and alleyways.

The geography of Manchester has changed. Where before people have been taking on not built up land, that shrub land is now being built on, flats are going up all over the place, so that's why people are seeing more people.

Tim Lavender, Change Grow Live
People are injecting in areas impossible to sterilise. Credit: ITV News

But what can be done to keep heroin off the streets - and keep users and members of the public safe from dirty needles?

This is one current solution: a sharps bin.

Heroin users are given these boxes at needle exchanges so that they have somewhere to discard their needles after they've injected.

People are encouraged to dispose of needles safely. Credit: Lynne Cameron/PA

Dr Lucy Webb from Manchester Metropolitan University has spent years researching substance misuse.

She says the boxes are much better than nothing, but are by no means a perfect solution.

We asked her to show us what she meant:

In Denmark they've taken the radical step of opening drugs consumption rooms.

These are sterile spaces where users can bring their own heroin - but are offered clean needles, health support, and advice for what rehab services are available.

Drugs consumption rooms give people a sterile environment to inject their own drugs. Credit: ITV News

There have been no fatalities from overdose within these rooms - which has led to calls for them to be introduced in the UK.

Risha Lancaster lost her brother Craig to a heroin overdose. He died in a public car park on his own.

Craig White died of a heroin overdose in a public park. Credit: Family

The thought of him just being in a car park having to do that is heartbreaking in itself. This is why we need safety around this disease, because drug addiction is a disease. It's wrecking peoples lives, not just the people who are finding themselves in the position of taking it, but the family, the friends, the people surrounding it.

Risha Lancaster, Coffee 4 Craig

And calls for a trial of safe inspection rooms have been echoed by a Manchester City Councillor.

Rosa Battle believes that while needle exchanges have been effective in keeping people from using dirty equipment, it's doing little to prevent public heroin use in populated areas of the city.

We need to move past that now, there's no point brining people into the area to exchange needles if there's not a safe space for them to consume those drugs. You wouldn't come into a bar, buy a drink, and then take it home, so what I'm saying is that if people are coming into the area, we need to provide a safe space for them to take the drugs, and make sure that they're safe and that the communities around them are also safe. I would love to see Manchester lead the way and be a pilot area for these sort of rooms.

Cllr Rosa Battle, Ancoats and Beswick ward
Credit: ITV News

Safe injecting rooms are undeniably controversial, raising questions about funding, and the ethics of seeming to condone drug use.

But Risha says doing nothing is not an option:

Manchester City Council says there are legal barriers in place which means it has no plans to introduce these kind of safe consumption rooms.

Manchester has no plans to introduce drug harm consumption rooms. Glasgow and Brighton have raised the idea of developing developing drug consumption rooms but national government has consistently made explicit that there is a legal barrier to their introduction. However, we will always consider good practice and drug harm reduction policies that are evidenced as working. It is not a decision we would take alone it would involve multiple agencies.

Cllr Bev Craig, Adult Health and Wellbeing

Unless there's a change in UK law, alleyways and parks are the only injecting spaces many of Manchester's addicts will ever know.

You can watch the full report by Lise McNally below: