A police force sparked controversy over plans to hand addicts leaving custody ‘DIY drug kits’ with clean needles and advice showing how to find the best veins.
The new scheme launching at Parkside station in Cambridge next month is the first in the country to provide such packs to intravenous drug users at a police custody suite.
Each ‘Harm Reduction Kit’ contains three clean needles, a sharps box for safe disposal of dirty needles and a user manual with health advice on injecting heroin.
Drugs workers and medical examiners will hand the kit to suspects when they are released from custody in a bid to slow the spread of HIV and hepatitis.
Cambridgeshire police also hope the packs, which are the size of a glasses case, will stop drug users recklessly dumping dirty needles in public places.
But campaigners claim the move is ”farcical” and users should be prosecuted for drugs not handed help packs which could increase use.
Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It is farcical that the police are being made to hand out kits to make it easier for people to use illegal drugs.
”What is the point of making the police enforce the law and help people to break it at the same time?
”This is sending out utterly mixed messages about drug use, and the authorities should make their mind up whether they think drugs should be banned or not.”
Shelley Ward, a project support officer for Cambridgeshire police, developed the kit with Cambridgeshire County Council’s drug and alcohol workers.
She said: ”The more interaction we have with drug users, the more chance we have to get them off drugs and into treatment.
”The reason that they are in the custody unit is because they are in the criminal justice system.
”The chances are they are committing acquisitive crime to feed their habit and most drug users that you speak to readily admit that crime is linked to their drug habit.
”The kits provide another avenue to talk to them about their drug habit and try to get them into treatment.”
Advice by drugs experts handing out the kit includes on how to find a suitable vein to inject to reduce the risk of them contracting gangrene.
Mrs Ward said: ”I do not want the constabulary to be seen to be helping drug users to take their drugs: it is all about keeping communities safe, and also we have a duty of care to anybody who has been in our custody.”
If police confiscate drug users’ needles when released from custody they are more likely to turn to shared and dirty needles, Mrs Ward added.
Previous council designs which included a grey carrier bag were opposed by drug users because they complained it marked them out as criminals, Mrs Ward added.
Twenty kits are due to be handed to any drug user released from the custody suite during a week-long trial in June.
The manuals and kits are developed by drug support group Addaction, who are funded by Cambridgeshire County Council to run its drugs policy.