Safer Drug Consumption Rooms or Overdose Prevention Centres (OPCs)

Transform works locally and regionally to promote innovative approaches to reducing drug harms. These include helping to establish police Diversion Schemes; Heroin Assisted Treatment, and Drug Safety Testing at festivals, night-time venues and city centre locations.

We also support the introduction of Safer Drug Consumption Rooms or Overdose Prevention Centres (OPC) as they are sometimes known (also called supervised injection facilities, enhanced harm reduction centres etc).

What is an Overdose Prevention Centre?

OPCs are hygienic, safe spaces where people are able to take illegal drugs under the supervision of trained staff. In an OPC, they have access to sterile equipment, and staff can respond immediately to overdose. They also provide an opportunity for brief interventions and advice, or for people to be referred to drug treatment, mental health services, wound care, blood testing and other support.

No one has ever died from an overdose in an OPC.

OPCs first emerged in the 1970s, but have become more commonplace in recent years. There are currently over 150 OPCs in operation across the world, in twelve countries including Canada, Germany, Switzerland, France, Portugal, the Ukraine, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Spain and Denmark. (See map below)

OPCs reduce overdose deaths

OPCs reduce needle sharing that can lead to infections, including HIV and hepatitis C, wounds and hospitalisations, public injecting, and discarded needles which are unpleasant for local communities.

OPCs increase numbers entering treatment, so cutting illegal drug use.

OPCs save more money than they cost by reducing costs to health services and police.

See FAQs for more details, and our 2-side briefing

Why we need OPCs

UK Situation

A number of local areas are currently looking at the possibility of opening an OPC to reduce drug harms. NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government, in particular, want to open an OPC in Glasgow to help tackle record drug deaths and an HIV outbreak. The UK Government is blocking them. This is despite support for OPCs from many health bodies, police, NGOs, the Government’s own expert scientific advisers, and unanimous cross-party support on Glasgow City Council. 

A number of areas are considering going ahead without support from the UK Government, but with local lawful agreements. 

There are also proposals for guerrilla OPCs, as happened in Denmark, Canada and other countries before legally sanctioned OPCs were opened there.

OPCs – Key resources

Where are OPCs already open?

Global map

Global Map of Overdose Prevention Centres

What do OPCs look like?

(open source set of photos for media etc to use – coming soon)

Overdose Prevention Centre Floorplan

Permanent, large OPC – Melbourne Medically Supervised Injection Centre

Permanent, large OPC – Insite Canada

Smaller OPC embedded within other facilities – Dr Peter’s Hospice, Vancouver

Mobile Unit in Denmark

How do OPCs work?

New clients’ health status, and drug use are briefly assessed, then they receive sterile equipment, and inject at a sterile booth, under the care of a nurse or other trained staff. Clients then move to a recovery area for observation until safe to leave. Staff provide safer injecting advice, first aid, and overdose reversal treatment if needed, as well as offering referral to treatment and other services.

The best way to understand how an OPC works is to see round one.

Reviews and key papers

Legal Situation

Government and Government advisers’ positions in the UK

  • The Scottish Government, backed by the Scottish Parliament, has repeatedly called for OPCs to be allowed.
  • Glasgow City Council unanimously backed opening a OPC (including the motion being co-proposed by the Conservative group). In its response the UK Government acknowledged the health and other benefits while declining to give permission.
  • The UK Government’s own scientific advisory panel, the ACMD, report includes a recommendation to pilot OPCs:  Reducing Opioid Related Death in the UK 
  • The UK Government’s position and concerns were addressed in detail by three Police and Crime Commissioners, part of a growing number of PCCs and police who want to open an OPC.

Key Groups backing OPSs

These include among others:

The UN International Narcotics Control Board

The UN International Narcotics Control Board

The INCB supports OPCS if they operate “within a framework that offers treatment and rehabilitation services as well as social reintegration measures.”

Opening an OPS – practical steps

Building Community Support

Although communities including residents, businesses and police may see the benefits of OPSs once they are open, and most become supportive, there can be opposition when they are proposed. It is key to consult and inform and educate everyone with concerns in advance, as some OPCs have been delayed by groups and business opposition based on a misunderstanding of the likely outcomes.

When local residents and families affected by drugs are involved however, support can be built.

For example:

  • This short video about the Dr Peter’s Hospice OPC has strong supportive quotes from the local residents association, housing, police, and business community.
  • In Melbourne, a group of residents and affected families called the Victoria Street Drug Solutions campaigned for an OPC to open in their area, which it did in 2018. Plans for a second one have now been announced.

[Images] Bereaved and affected families lead the march for an OPC in Melbourne