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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 02:09 GMT 03:09 UK
Panel backs drug-injecting rooms
Shooting gallery in Sydney, Australia
Shooting galleries are used in some countries, such as Australia

Special rooms where heroin users could legally inject drugs should be trialled in the UK, a panel of experts has said.

The independent group said allowing users to inject in a safe and hygienic environment would improve their health and reduce the risk of fatal overdoses.

The panel, including health workers and senior police officers, highlighted the successful use of such rooms worldwide.

However, the Home Office has argued "drug consumption rooms" could increase localised drug dealing and crime.

The call comes in the wake of a survey for the BBC that suggested three-quarters of people in the UK believe drugs are a problem in their area.

The international evidence in favour of piloting drug consumption rooms in the UK is strong
Martin Barnes
Chief executive DrugScope

The panel's report, funded by charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said drug-injecting rooms - or so-called shooting galleries - would offer a "unique and promising way" to help reduce the number of fatal drug overdoses.

'Lives saved'

It said they could help take drug use and discarded needles off the streets.

The 11-strong panel behind the report was chaired by Dame Ruth Runciman.

Members included Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman and Detective Superintendent Kevin Green, of the Metropolitan police, and health workers.

DRUGS SURVEY IN FULL

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Lady Runciman said: "While millions of drug injections have taken place in drug consumption rooms abroad, no one has died yet from an overdose.

"In short, lives could be saved."

There are around 65 injecting rooms in eight countries across the world - Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Luxembourg, Australia and Canada.

The report said public disorder and drug-dealing near drug "shooting galleries" were "infrequent", and they did not affect levels of theft or robbery carried out to feed drug habits.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Creating 'shooting galleries' for heroin users is a preposterous idea
Helen Baker, Derby

It estimated tens of thousands of heroin injections were taken in public places each month in England alone.

Injecting rooms were considered in 2002 by the Commons' all-party home affairs select committee but it rejected the idea.

'Persuasive evidence'

Martin Barnes, chief executive of drugs education charity DrugScope, welcomed the report and said a "policy which can save lives deserves serious consideration however controversial it may seem at first".

"The international evidence in favour of piloting drug consumption rooms in the UK is strong and persuasive and we particularly welcome the emphasis on local agency working and engaging with local communities," he said.

On Monday, a survey of 1,190 people conducted by ICM for the BBC revealed more than half thought the police were not doing enough to combat drugs problems.

The survey also suggested there were big regional variations in drug use, with 26% in south east England saying they had taken an illegal drug compared with just 6% in Northern Ireland.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear about the success of drug-rooms in Switzerland





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