UK 'To Get First Addict Centre to Improve Needle Hygiene and Safety'

October 31, 2016

The UK looks set to get its first specialist centre designed to improve needle hygiene and safety practices for drug addicts.

Plans are expected to be approved to give the green light to the opening of so-called 'fix rooms' in Glasgow, providing long-term heroin addicts with a safe place where they can inject themselves with clean needles in a hygienic surrounding, rather than out on the streets or in their own home where the risk of sharps injury and blood contamination is higher.

As addicts are often desperate for a fix, they may inject themselves in an unsafe or unhygienic manner, using used or broken needles, or sharps instruments that feature the potentially infected blood of someone else. Drug users are already at greater risk of life-threatening conditions including hepatitis C and HIV, and could be putting themselves at even more risk by sharing needles with others and increasing the likelihood of the cross-contamination of blood.

Similar centres to the one proposed for Glasgow have already opened in Australia, Germany, Holland and Switzerland, with France also recently seeing its first fix centre open in Paris.

The centres are not just designed to improve needle hygiene and safety practices, however, but they are also intended to provide ongoing support to drug users to prevent them from causing further harm to themselves. In addition, they will be given the option of accessing therapy services to assist them in coming off drugs altogether, dramatically reducing their risk of sharps injuries and blood contamination over the long term.

Safe sharps disposal bins will also be available at the centre, preventing other people from injuring themselves on drug users' contaminated needles.

Speaking to BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) David Liddell explained that fix centres, or shooting galleries, as they are called in some countries, are meant to enhance existing provisions. He acknowledged that they may be seen as controversial, but that they are intended to provide safe, sterile environments for drug administration before addicts can begin recovering.

Mr Liddell stated: "The key point is we have people who are mostly long-term users - people who have been using for more than 20 years or more. Abstinence recovery is not on their immediate horizon.

"The most immediate thing for these individuals is the need to keep them alive so they can recover in the future."

Getting addicts off drugs altogether is still the long-term goal of the SDF. However, in the meantime, many believe it is best for them to be able to inject drugs in a controlled, sterile environment, with minimal risk of sharps injury or blood contamination.