Drink and Drugs News DDN 1804 - Page 8

Harm reduction Climate change Belfast’s injecting drugs crisis has prompted a call for action – to bring a drug consumption room to the city as quickly as possible. Report from Chris Rintoul T here has been a marked rise in people who inject drugs in Belfast city centre over the last two years. This is shown by a dramatic increase in discarded injecting equipment – in back streets, car parks, public toilets, toilets provided by shops and public transport stations, as well as a number of disused buildings. Further evidence is an increase in the numbers of people begging, accessing needle and syringe provision, and presenting for treatment for heroin dependence, which has been accompanied by sensationalist media reporting and frustration among members of the business community. On 20 February a conference was held at Queens University Belfast. Called Responding to injecting drug use: an exploratory conversation, it was delivered by Extern, a social justice organisation providing services throughout Ireland, and co- sponsored by Queens University and the Belfast Drugs and Alcohol Coordination Team. More than 130 people attended, from diverse perspectives and agencies including the media, politicians, city councillors and the health and social care field. During the last two years Extern have been working with stakeholders across the city to assist in managing what has rapidly become an entrenched issue. A public expectation that Belfast’s developing heroin ‘scene’ should, could and would be eradicated primarily by law enforcement measures is being replaced with a growing pragmatic awareness that we have to manage what is a health and social issue. As a result, attempts are being made to learn from other cities who have experienced these issues for longer periods. As Extern’s drugs and alcohol consultant, I was able to use my international contacts to attract a world-class group of speakers from the legal, law enforcement, academic and practice fields. Professor Pat O’Hare of Liverpool John Moores University chaired the event, introducing the keynote speaker, Professor Carl Hart of Columbia University, NYC. Carl’s impassioned presentation outlined the moral case for a baseline harm reduction response for people who inject drugs (PWIDs) in the city centre, with a drug consumption facility (DCR) in an area where drugs are already bought and used. Next Durham’s chief constable, Mike Barton, outlined his views on how similar problems in Durham could and should be treated, and made particular reference to heroin assisted treatment (HAT) for those who have not benefited from traditional OST medications. His presence attracted a number of high-ranking officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland and enabled them to consider HAT and the case for a DCR in Belfast. The next speakers were Niamh Eastwood, barrister and executive director of Release, and Neil Woods, an ex-undercover police officer and now chair of Law 8 | drinkanddrugsnews | April 2018 Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Niamh outlined the legal issues associated with a DCR within the UK – both the apparent barriers and potential ways to overcome them. She made clear that there is a legal way forward in the UK to the provision of DCRs, if enough popular support exists and the local police force and politicians agree with the concept. Neil then spoke of his very