THE UK’S FIRST OPERATIONAL OVERDOSE PREVENTION CENTRE (OPC) visited Westminster on 6 June, as part of a campaign to persuade the government to back them.

Also known as Supervised Drug Consumption Rooms, OPCs are hygienic spaces where, instead of injecting in the street, people can use their drugs while supervised by staff trained to treat any overdoses. They provide sterile needles, basic healthcare and can refer people to drug treatment and other services.

The UK’s first OPC is a converted ambulance, which has been used in Glasgow to supervise over 1000 injections by people using illegal drugs, and has treated multiple overdoses.

Peter Krykant, who ran the OPC in Glasgow said: “I set up this service to show how outdated our drug laws are, and that a simple, compassionate clinical service could save lives with few resources. We supervised over 1000 injections and reversed nine overdoses that could have been fatal, in just a few months. Imagine how many lives could be saved if the government allowed any area that needed and wanted an Overdose Prevention Centre to open one?”

Patricia Hudson, of the Anyone’s Child project who lost her son Kevin to an overdose said: “In its debates and decisions about Overdose Prevention Centres, I hope the UK Government listens to people like me who have lost loved ones when this could easily have been prevented.

“I believe my son would be alive today, and several of his friends, had there been such a centre in our community. There is now a mass of international evidence that supports the use of OPCs as a key life-saving and harm reduction measure. They are a pragmatic, sensible and cost effective response that can help the UK to reduce its extraordinarily high record of drug deaths.”

Government ministers, MPs and members of the public were invited to see inside, and hear about how they could operate across the UK. In a meeting in the Palace of Westminster, the Faculty of Public Health and Drug Science presented a proposal for an OPC in the Midlands.

Professor Maggie Rae, President of the Faculty of Public Health said: “Our job as health professionals is to do all that we can to protect health for individuals and communities, and we simply cannot ignore the deaths of thousands of people, every year. We are left frustrated because these deaths are largely preventable, and with the right services, we can also prevent the wider detrimental impacts of problem drug use, including crime and the spread of blood-borne disease. Our call is unequivocal. Overdose Prevention Centres are an effective public health measure and we need to pilot them in the UK.”

Professor Alex Stevens said: “Year on year, there are thousands of drug-related deaths in the UK. These are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, who were often in the most isolated periods of their lives. We cannot address this tragic issue by pushing vulnerable people even further into the margins. Instead, international evidence and examples from 14 other countries show that Overdose Prevention Centres can keep people safe and engage them with the support they need. And that will also benefit us all, helping to remove drug use, drug-related litter and other issues from our communities.”

Bereaved families from the Anyone’s Child campaign also laid out 4335 handmade forget-me-not-flowers around the ambulance, to commemorate the people who have died from drugs last year in the UK.

* More information on Overdose Prevention Centres here.

* Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control, is an international network of families whose lives have been wrecked by current drug laws and are now campaigning to change them. More information here.

* Source: Transform Drug Policy Foundation