The Greek health ministry is preparing a legislative amendment to permit the opening of drug consumption rooms in Athens, after a university’s claim that it’s overwhelmed by widespread public drug use.
The drug consumption rooms (DCRs) – if approved – will provide a hygienic environment and sterile equipment for people to consume drugs with under the supervision of trained medical staff, according to Greek newspaper, I Kathimerini. Staff will keep a record of the service users, Health Minister Andreas Xanthos has said.
The ministry’s announcement, in late October, came after the Athens University of Economics and Business warned that it may have to close due to an overwhelming number of people using drugs in the campus area.
“In recent years, the [university has faced] difficult and complex problems due, among other things, to the degradation that has occurred in the wider area of its premises and the city centre of Athens […] due to the presence of drug addicts,” a university spokesperson said.
“The problem [can be attributed to] insufficient policing, and it also concerns other policy areas such as health, education, social support structures, hygiene, the aesthetics of the city, and, in general, the application of the law,” the spokesperson added.
As TalkingDrugs has reported, DCRs provide a wide range of benefits to people who do not use drugs, but who live or work in the vicinity of such a facility. DCRs reduce potentially-hazardous drug litter, improve the public’s access to emergency services, can reduce crime in general, and help integrate marginalised people into the legitimate economy – providing financial benefits for all of society.
However, most importantly, DCRs – which are already implemented in eight European countries, Australia, and Canada – are proven to improve health outcomes for people who do use drugs.
DCRs prevent deadly overdoses from taking place, as healthcare professionals oversee people’s drug use and are therefore able to administer naloxone – a medication that reverses opioid overdoses – when necessary. Across the world, there has never been a fatal drug overdose within a DCR.
Another important benefit of opening DCRs in Greece is that such facilities reduce the spread of infectious diseases, thanks to the provision of sterile equipment. As the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction has found, Greece currently has one of the EU’s highest rates of newly-diagnosed HIV cases attributed to injecting drug use, with Athens having one of the higher rates within the country.
DCRs also provide marginalised groups, such as homeless people or those with mental health issues, with an opportunity to learn about harm reduction measures and treatment options. For many service users, it may be their only interaction with healthcare professionals.
Following the health ministry’s finalisation of the legislative amendment concerning DCRs, the document will be submitted to Parliament for consideration.