Mobile injection room rolls out

Private initiative challenges government ban on injection rooms
The Copenhagen Post (Denmark)
Thursday, September 15, 2011

Two out-of-service ambulances have been put back into service as mobile injection rooms for drug addicts in Copenhagen (Denmark). The vehicles will be used to transport a team of volunteer doctors and nurses and a stock of clean needles in the Vesterbro district.

The mobile injection room service had its first shift on Monday and is planned to be on the road twice a week. During the first three hours of operation, seven drug addicts made use of the mobile facility.

“They are really happy to have a place where they don’t risk getting mugged, where there’s light, and where there are no children to see them,” Dr Kasper Iversen, who was one the volunteers, told Berlingske newspaper.

The team of volunteers can also offer first aid in case of an overdose.

One of the project’s backers is Michael Lodberg Olsen, who been working for years to improve conditions for addicts in Vesterbro and who earlier this year was unsuccessful in an effort to open an injection room.

“We know from other countries that injection rooms and first aid on street level save lives and provide significantly better health for a very vulnerable group of people who currently are forced to take drugs under unsanitary conditions in the street,” he said.

Each year about 300 drug addicts in Denmark die from an overdose, which gives the country one of the highest mortality rates among addicts in Europe – surpassed only by Luxembourg and Estonia.

Many other European cities have established injection rooms staffed by healthcare professionals, and studies show that these facilities significantly reduce the death rate for drug addicts and even cut expenses for treating HIV and hepatitis. In addition, crime rates in the drug-ridden areas have decreased, and streets have become cleaner.

A 2010 Berlingske/Gallup poll showed that more than seven out of ten Danes support injection rooms. There is also a majority in favour at City Hall, but the government has blocked attempts to open them.

If the opposition wins the election on Thursday, the Social Democrats and the SF have announced that they will legalise injection rooms.

Social Democrat health spokesperson Sophie Hæstorp Andersen said the government’s opposition to injection rooms has cost lives.

“We want injection rooms introduced as soon as possible, because we know they save lives,” she said.

The Justice Ministry is currently in the process of assessing whether the new mobile injection room is legal.