Overdose prevention centres could save ‘thousands’ of lives, says major evidence review

A German overdose prevention centre – one of more than 200 worldwide

Overdose prevention centres have the potential to ‘prevent thousands of deaths’ and reduce the spread of disease, with no increase in drug-related crime, according to what is believed to the largest evidence review on the subject.

The report, which was led by Queen’s University Belfast in partnership with the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), Release, Drug Science and the universities of Oxford, Kent and East Anglia, looked at almost 600 items of peer-reviewed research, guidance and other documents from around the world.

The study cites examples where staff in overdose prevention centres – also known as consumption rooms – have reportedly safely managed ‘hundreds, in some cases, thousands’ of overdoses, ‘saving many lives’. Researchers also found evidence of prevention of HIV and hepatitis transmission through reduced sharing of injecting equipment, as well as referrals to drug treatment and other support and collection of valuable data for health services. The centres also reduced drug litter in neighbourhoods, the report states, as well as saving public money through fewer ambulance call-outs and hospital admissions.

There are now more than 200 overdose prevention centres worldwide, including in Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the US, with plans to establish a pilot facility in Scotland after the country’s lord advocate said it would not be in the public interest to prosecute people for possession offences in one (https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/glasgow-consumption-room-gets-go-ahead/).

Recent public health guidance from EMCDDA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control listed consumption rooms as one of the six key interventions to prevent and control infections among people who inject drugs (https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/consumption-rooms-among-key-interventions-to-prevent-infections-says-emcdda/), although some commentators have questioned how many people are likely to use the facilities in the UK (https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/the-right-fix/).

Dr Gillian Shorter: ‘These spaces aim to meet people where they’re at.’

‘These are harm-reduction spaces which aim to meet people where they are at, provide health support and basic facilities, and keep people alive,’ said the study’s lead author, Dr Gillian Shorter. ‘They are places of safety and inclusion, often for those who do not have other places to go. The evidence shows OPCs don’t just improve multiple outcomes for people who use drugs – they reduce drug litter, and lead to less visible drug use on our streets which is good for businesses and communities. Ultimately, they save money through reduced emergency-service use and drug-related deaths.

‘We hope our report will improve the public perception of OPCs by demystifying what they do. What our review showed is that OPCs can help save lives in an urgent and growing drug-death crisis in the UK. Alongside other essential public-health strategies such as naloxone availability and real-time drug testing, the adoption of OPCs in areas of need will help reduce the enormous costs facing our communities.’

Overdose prevention centres, safe consumption sites, and drug consumption rooms: a rapid evidence review available here

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