The government has rejected out of hand advice from health experts and police to set up dedicated rooms where heroin addicts can inject the drug.
An independent working group, set up by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, claimed the scheme would help reduce fatal overdoses and minimise drug use on the streets.
The controversial plan would have launched specialist booths called drug consumption rooms (DCRs), which would allow users to inject in a clean and safe environment with the aim of cutting the number of drug-related deaths.
The UK has the highest number of drug users and drug-related deaths in the EU, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addicts.
DCRs were first proposed for the UK in 2002 by the Home Affairs Select Committee but were rejected then by the government. In response to the new report, Home Office minister Vernon Coaker said today that the government’s position remained the same.
He said: “The government’s message on drugs is clear: we will not tolerate those who deal in drugs in our communities. DCRs do not form any part of our strategy.
“We believe the reasons for rejecting it in 2002 are as valid today – namely, the risk of an increase in localised dealing, anti-social behaviour and acquisitive crime.”
The panel of experts argued that users had little option but to inject drugs in dirty environments, such as toilets, streets and parks. They said this was not only dangerous for the users but that discarded needles were a nuisance and health risk to the public.
UK drugs charities support the scheme. Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, said: “A policy which can save lives deserves serious consideration, however controversial it may seem at first.
“The international evidence in favour of piloting DCRs in the UK is strong and persuasive.”
The DCRs would be run by health officials who would be on hand to help users if they should overdose, but would not be able to assist with the injection of drugs. They could, however, offer advice while also providing sterilised needles, clean water and a tourniquet.
The first DCR opened in Berne, Switzerland in 1985. More have opened since in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Norway, Luxembourg, Canada and Australia, and there are now 65 spread across 45 countries.