On Wednesday 17 January, I participated in a Westminster Hall Debate on drug consumption rooms. Should we have drug consumption rooms in Bristol? A place where illicit drugs can be used under the supervision of trained staff.
For those squeamish about this idea, evidence shows that we already have a drug consumption room operating in Bristol – it’s called Bristol. Public spaces, the city centre, the steps leading up to my office – all areas where drugs are taken in our city and are made unsafe as a result.
And it affects all of us. According to Bristol City Council, the estimated cost of drug related admissions to the BRI in 2015/6 was just over £1 million. That puts an obvious strain on our health services, but the harms to all us (whether we use drugs or not) are many and varied.
I believe that our current approach to illegal drugs isn’t working and that we need to consider new approaches and ideas. Sadly, the minister in her response to the debate indicated that the government aren’t willing to consider changing their approach. You can read the minister’s full response here.
Thank you for your patience with the many Divisions throughout the debate, Ms Ryan. I will not repeat what other hon. Members have said, but make some specific, Bristol-related remarks.
I understand why people have an instinctive reaction that drug consumption rooms must be harmful, because they appear to facilitate the use of drugs. To hon. Friends who have doubts, however, I say that we already have a drug consumption room in Bristol: it is called Bristol. It is called the square outside my office, the doorstep into my office and the blocks of council flats at the side of my office. It is called virtually every part of the city centre.
The harms caused by that existing drug consumption room from the drug consumption that goes on there, the resulting drug litter, and the visible harm to drug addicts and to bystanders—people who have no interest in taking drugs but want their children to be able to play in the local playground—are many and varied. They hurt the most vulnerable and the very people we on this side of the House are here to represent, so I encourage all hon. Members to consider the use of drug consumption rooms.
In Bristol, we have very high rates of injecting and of poly-drug use, particularly crack cocaine mixed with heroin that is then injected. Public Health England recognises that we have high levels of complexity in the people who use such drugs and in the high levels of admission to hospital for drug-related harms.
Another harm is more widely shared among us all: the cost of the existing drug consumption room regime to the health economy. The total length of stay in the Bristol Royal Infirmary in 2015-16 for drug-related admissions was 2,758 days, with an estimated cost of £1,103,200. I thank Jody Clark for providing those figures from Bristol City Council’s “Bristol Substance Misuse Needs Assessment”. Hospital admissions specifically for injuries caused by injections accounted for 1,005 bed days—36% of all drug-related stays. That is from just 71 individuals who had an average stay in hospital of 14 days each—more than twice the average 6.6-day stay for all drug-related admissions—and an estimated cost of in excess of £400,000.
I urge all hon. Members to consider that if we want to give our health service more money, if we want to make our streets safer, and if we want to save the lives of people who have drug addictions, as I do, we need to invest in drug consumption rooms. However unpleasant it is to have to step over a very aggressive and slightly frightening—sometimes very frightening—drug addict on my office steps, I do not want them to die. I want their lives to be saved and I want the people who live in the blocks of flats near my office to be able to send their children out to play.
For all those reasons, and because nobody has ever died in a drug consumption room that was officially sanctioned and clinically run, I urge all hon. Members to consider the drug consumption rooms we have at the moment and support this alternative.
You can watch a clip of my speech here: