Setting up a “fix room” in Wrexham where drug addicts can inject themselves safely and hygienically would save lives.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones spoke out after a fact-finding mission to Switzerland where they have a more “tolerant and compassionate approach” which has yielded positive results for the drug takers themselves and society generally.
According to Mr Jones, it was a huge contrast to the drugs policy in the UK which was killing people.
The commissioner, a former police inspector, travelled to Geneva with his opposite number from Durham, Ron Hogg.
Both have called for a more enlightened attitude to drug use which treats addiction as a health rather than a criminal issue.
They met Switzerland’s former Prime Minister who in a previous role as the country’s health minister oversaw two key measures which helped tackle drug problems – setting up a network of Heroin Assisted Treatment clinics and Safe Injection Facilities (SIFs), or “fix rooms”, where users can go to inject, snort or smoke drugs under medical supervision.
The group were shown examples of both of these facilities in Geneva as part of their visit.
Mr Jones says the evidence in Switzerland further convinced him that SIFs could be the way forward in North Wales.
He said: “Ron Hogg is promoting the setting up of a programme of heroin assisted treatment in Durham, which he believes would benefit long-term problematic drug users.
“He and I are both interested in safe injecting facilities and we saw one in use behind Geneva rail station which seems very effective.
“I believe SIFs would be useful in North Wales and particularly Wrexham where there have been well documented drug problems.
“They would give problematic users somewhere secure to go rather than having to inject in public areas and upsetting people with the state they are in.
“They would also be much safer as nobody has ever died in a SIF. This is a major consideration with the number of drug-related deaths in the UK having now risen to about 2,500 a year.
“In a SIF there would be someone there to give assistance if something goes wrong with injecting.
“Drugs policy in the UK is killing people and a more tolerant and compassionate approach would start saving lives immediately.”
The PCC added: “Whilst in Geneva I also had a meeting with Ruth Dreifuss, the former President of Switzerland who is now president of the Global Drug Commission which is based in the city.
“She was also Switzerland’s health minister for about 10 years during which time she was responsible for introducing heroin assisted therapy and SIFs.
“I had a very constructive and inspirational meeting with her.
“She also told us that Switzerland no longer has any problems with New Psychoactive Substances, such as Black Mamba and Spice, that were once known as legal highs and which have left some people in Wrexham in a zombie-like state.
“There is a very tolerant and compassionate approach to drugs in Switzerland, which is the main thing I picked up from her.
“In this Switzerland is very much like Portugal, which I also visited recently and saw how minor drug possession is regarded more of a health than a criminal matter.
“During the latest trip I also visited a heroin assisted treatment centre in Geneva. This allows people addicted to opiates to take medicinal heroin. If what they require is provided by the state through pharmacies it reduces harm and also reduces crime and re-offending.
“We will have to see how Heroin Assisted Therapy works out when it is introduced in Durham but I am further convinced after my visit to Switzerland that safe injecting facilities are very much the way forward in North Wales as a way of reducing harm.
“However, we have to take things one step at a time.”
At a recent summit on the decriminalisation on drugs he hosted at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground, Mr Jones won support for his views on safe injecting facilities from the bereaved mother of 15-year-old Oxford schoolgirl Martha Fernbeck who died from a cardiac arrest in 2013 after swallowing 90 per cent pure ecstasy.
Anne-Marie Cockburn, who has since become a tireless campaigner for the legal regulation of drugs and was a keynote speaker at the Anyone’s Child event, said: “I agree with Mr Jones about the safe injecting facilities. They would get rid of the paraphernalia of drugs and get users away from parks and open spaces.
“A lot of drug users have complex needs. The SIFs would give them access to clean facilities and they wouldn’t have to worry about the stigma of getting access to help.”