The drug consumption van providing a safe space for drug-users

  • Watch: Inside the drugs consumption van in Bristol city centre

A drugs consumption van designed to provide a safe space for drug users to inject substances visited Bristol as part of an awareness campaign.

The people behind the drug consumption space - which is a converted minibus - call it an Overdose Prevention Centre (OPC).

It provides hygienic spaces where, instead of injecting in the street, people can use their drugs while supervised by staff who are trained to treat any overdose.

Staff provide sterile needles, basic healthcare and can also refer people to drug treatment programmes and other services.

The OPC has previously been in Glasgow for most of 2021, where its founder Peter Krykant said he and its staff helped supervise more than 1,000 injections by people using illegal drugs - and they prevented multiple overdoses from becoming fatal.

The launch on College Green will also be accompanied by the unveiling of a memorial to remember people who have died as a result of drugs. It was led by families backing the project who have lost loved ones to drug-related deaths.

According to the most recent figures from Bristol’s health and council authorities, there are almost 5,000 active users of crack and heroin in Bristol - making it the second highest drug dependent city in England.

Bristol also saw almost double the rate of drug-related deaths than the national average in the past two years. In 2019, there were 41 drug-related deaths, and 38 in 2020 - that’s a rate of 8.9 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of five.

The OPC has previously been in Glasgow for most of 2021 but is visiting Bristol today.

Having a safe space for drug users to take their drugs has long been an idea championed by political leaders in Bristol - but it is not a project currently backed by central government.

Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire first called for drug consumption rooms or spaces to be allowed by the Government and for Bristol to have one, saying it would be "money well invested".

In 2018, Ms Debbonaire said the unsafe use of injected illegal drugs cost the NHS in Bristol at least £1.3million a year just based on the number of admissions to the BRI.

At the start of this year, the Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees said he wanted a ‘city conversation’ about the calls from the Bristol-based Transform Drug Policy group, and a host of other drug charities and health organisations for Bristol to have a drug consumption space.

The city’s police, council and health authorities drew up a five-year plan to reduce drug use and harms, and that listed drug consumption rooms as a potential solution.

But they are not supported by government.

“We have no plans to introduce drug consumption rooms and anyone running them would be committing a range of offences including possession of a controlled drug and being concerned in the supply of a controlled drug,” a spokesperson for the Home Office said.

“Our approach on drugs remains clear – we must prevent drug use in our communities, support people through treatment and recovery, and tackle the supply of illegal drugs,” he added.

However, Maggie Telfer, Chief Executive at the Bristol Drugs Project (BDP) explained she would support Bristol having a drug consumption space.

Watch: Maggie Telfer discuss drug consumption spaces

"If you have nowhere private of your own, particularly if you're homeless, then you're probably injecting drugs in a concealed area - behind a disused building or behind bushes in a park."

She says these areas are often unhygienic and could lead to further health issues for the user.

"If you have a safe clean space, it means you can take time and find a vein and do the least damage possible.

"You aren't getting mud on your hands and you won't get the abscesses that so many people experience each year because they have nowhere of their own."

She added: "We've got a significant problem - we're about 7th in the English 'league table' for heroin and we've got the highest number of people who use crack cocaine of any area in England.

"The Home Office policy is not to have safe places for people to use substances in the UK whereas we've got more than 10 countries worldwide, hundreds operating safely.

“OPCs are a pragmatic and humane response to a problem that isn’t disappearing anytime soon" she added.