Call for supervised drug consumption rooms in Suffolk as death rate reaches record high
PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:51 22 November 2017
A charity chief is calling for so-called fix rooms to be brought to Suffolk for addicts to inject safely as figures show the number of people dying from drug misuse in the county has doubled in the last 10 years.
Brian Tobin, founder of Iceni Ipswich, said drug consumption facilities, where users are supervised by trained medical staff, could “definitely save lives”.
Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics showed 84 people in Suffolk died from drug misuse between 2014 and 2016 – more than double the number from 2004 to 2006 and the highest rate since records began in 2001.
In response to this startling increase, a group of key organisations across Suffolk have grouped together to launch a “drug-related death multi-agency strategic partnership” in an effort to tackle the issue and improve treatment and support services for those struggling with addiction.
Among the agencies involved are Suffolk Public Health, Turning Point, Iceni Ipswich, Suffolk Constabulary, Suffolk Family Carers, Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Suffolk Coroner’s Office, Ipswich Hospital and 4YP.
Mr Tobin said the rise in deaths was the result of a “perfect storm” of factors, including new UK drug strategies which he claims wrongly focus on abstinence and recovery over harm reduction, poor commissioning of support services, and budget cuts.
In a last ditch effort to curb the number of drug-related deaths in Suffolk, Mr Tobin wants leaders to consider opening drug consumption rooms.
He said: “I think it’s worth exploring, I truly believe the time is right. I can’t see this improving, I think there will be more deaths next year. We’ve got to start looking at it with a fresh pair of eyes, we can’t just keep accepting people are going to die.”
The UK’s first legal drug consumption room is set to open in Glasgow next year on a trial basis. The idea has been successfully rolled out in other parts of the world and the main aim is to reduce the spread of disease through unhygienic injecting by offering a clean needle exchange, prevent fatal overdoses and connect users with support services.
In October, 245 discarded needles were found on the streets of Ipswich and Mr Tobin said a fix room would help bring this down.
However, Mr Tobin acknowledged the idea was contentious and carried “a huge amount of pros of cons”.
“We have got to be very mindful of where it is located but as long as it is properly managed, properly staffed, I think it would definitely save lives, I have no doubt about that,” he added.
Suffolk Constabulary was approached for comment but was not able to provide a response by the time of going to press.
Rosanna O’Connor, director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco at Public Health England, said there were currently no plans to trial drug consumption rooms in England.
She added: “There is international evidence that drug consumption rooms can be effective in addressing problems, particularly where drug taking presents a significant risk to public health.
“Local authorities are best placed to assess whether the evidence is applicable and what facilities will work in their area as part of a balanced drug treatment system.”
Tony Goldson, cabinet member for health at Suffolk County Council, said the multi-agency partnership was launched in August 2017 by Public Health Suffolk.
He added: “The partnership aims to maximise opportunities to reduce future drug-related deaths in Suffolk, by sharing intelligence and experience, developing harm reduction interventions across organisations and supporting families to develop preventative strategies.
“We are working together to improve access to treatment and support services, particularly for those at most risk.”
In September, a drug-related death forum was held in Suffolk and attended by more than 100 people.
Jan Ingle, a spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital, said: “We are really pleased to be working in partnership with all our colleague organisations to help end the misery that substance addiction can bring. It’s really important that everyone works together to provide and deliver the care people need.”
Of the 84 deaths across Suffolk in 2014 to 2016, 24 were in Waveney, 15 were in Ipswich and 15 were in St Edmundsbury.