The world’s largest drug consumption room (DCR) has opened in Copenhagen, offering a safe and supervised environment for people to use illicit drugs.
The 1000 square-metre drug consumption room, named H17, officially opened in the Vesterbro district of the Danish capital on August 15. Staff say that the facility is providing a space for people who use “hard drugs” – most illicit substances apart from cannabis – safely, and without the risk of legal consequences.
DCRs are not a new concept in Denmark; H17 is the sixth to be launched in the country, though differs in that it is not run by NGOs, with Copenhagen’s municipality instead appointing service providers. The facility has capacity for 24 guests – 12 people who inject drugs, and 12 who smoke them – at any one time. However, due to a lack of funding for staff, it currently offers space for six of each.
Louise Runge Mortensen, director of H17, says the intention of the DCR’s 20 staff members – including nine nurses and eight social workers – is to minimise the harms of drug use. “Our primary focus is harm reduction and providing a safe and clean environment for our guests”, Mortensen told TalkingDrugs, adding, “the nurses help with teaching correct injection techniques, cleaning wounds, […] screening for HIV and hepatitis, and, of course, treating overdoses”.
Mortensen hopes that, by providing these services, the facility will “reduce the number of people using [drugs] in the streets”, as well as the amount of publicly-discarded drug paraphernalia, such as dirty needles.
The first Danish DCR was opened in October 2012, four months after the national government agreed to allow its creation. The legislation, which was passed by 63 of 107 voting MPs, stipulated that police must not search or prosecute people in possession of "small quantities" of drugs in, or in the vicinity of, DCRs. Indeed, since the introduction of DCRs in Denmark, people who use illicit drugs have – unconventionally – found law enforcement to be an ally.
Kaj Majlund, the Deputy Chief Superintendent of the Copenhagen Police, claims that until DCRs were introduced he had believed that law enforcement was the answer to drug addiction.
"We used to think police could solve all these problems alone. But that doesn't work. We have to understand that drug users — the severely addicted — they need help. They need treatment, not punishment”, Majlund told BBC News. “You can't succeed by putting them into jail. You have to have a dialogue with these [people] and get them into the drug rooms so they can get help".
The proliferation of DCRs around Denmark has, however, not been without its critics. Rasmus Jarlov, a Conservative Party MP, has opposed their creation due to a fear that they encourage drug use. “We all want to help the drug addicts of Copenhagen”, he told the BBC, “but we think that maybe we should use the resources on getting them out of drugs instead of providing facilities where they continue to take drugs".
Jarlov’s perspective has, however, been countered by people who use DCRs. "The reasons I use drugs, and where and how I use drugs, are two separate things”, claimed one Danish DCR user in a 2013 interview, “This place makes sure I don't do it in the street, don't pick up diseases from dirty needles, and that is it".
Mortensen asserts that H17, and other DCRs, are not about enabling or encouraging drug use, but instead are about treating all people with compassion. “I think that as a community we have an obligation to care for all of our citizens”, she declared. “We need to offer the same standards to all – regardless of whether they do drugs or not”.