David Nutt

 David Nutt believes ministers must end their opposition to safe injection rooms. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

The Home Office must abandon its opposition to safe injection rooms if it wants to reduce drug-related deaths, now at record levels, a former government drugs chief has said.

David Nutt, who was chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said that failure to respond to last week’s revelation that drug deaths were at their highest since records began in 1993 would constitute “a wilful disregard of evidence”. The statistics showed that deaths from drug poisoning rose by 16% last year, representing the steepest year-on-year rise. However, the Home Office is refusing to sanction safe injection rooms – spaces where addicts can inject under medical supervision.

Nutt was sacked as drugs tsar in 2009 after saying that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol. Now chair of the Drug Science charity, he told the Observer: “Safe injecting rooms work. Not only do they save lives, they are also a gateway to rehabilitation and remove needles and other paraphernalia from our streets and parks. They are a triple win. ”

“Fixing rooms” have dramatically reduced drug deaths in many countries, including Denmark and Canada, but the Home Office has blocked attempts to trial them in the UK. The NHS was rebuffed when it sought permission to test them in Glasgow – drug-related deaths are higher in Scotland than in any other European country. In March the Labour party also called for drug consumption rooms to be trialled to reduce deaths.

A document written by the Home Office’s drug legislation team last year and sent to Glasgow councillors, admitted there was “evidence for the effectiveness of drug consumption rooms and addressing the problems of public nuisance associated with open drug scenes, and in reducing health risks for drug users”.

Campaigners point out that overdose rates have fallen in European countries that have adopted the policy, while in Britain they have soared.

The latest data show that there were 4,359 deaths from drug poisoning in England and Wales last year, with more than half involving an opiate such as heroin.

Martin Powell of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which attempts to reduce the damage caused by drugs through evidence-based policy reform, said: “When thousands of families are being bereaved every year by avoidable drug deaths, it is unconscionable that the government continues to block supervised drug consumption rooms – especially when they have acknowledged to Glasgow council, where the NHS is crying out to be allowed to open one, that they work. We call on the home secretary to recognise this as a public health emergency and act now.” most recent research, published in June, found that the facilities saved 230 deaths in 20 months in British Columbia. The Canadian province has a similar population and drug problem to Scotland.

Last year the Guardian visited a safe consumption facility in Denmark where 800 overdoses had been registered without a single death because nurses had quickly administered antidotes and resuscitated the person before calling an ambulance. Campaigners say drug-related deaths in the country have stabilised since 2011 while there have been no recorded deaths in a drug consumption room in Europe, of which there are at least 78.

The UK government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs itself has stated that safe-injecting rooms in Vancouver, Canada, and Sydney, Australia, have been successful in cutting overdose fatalities.

[“source=theguardian”]