Why addicts take drugs in 'fix rooms'

By Divya Talwar
BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme

Image caption,
Angelea Let works as a prostitute to fund her drug addiction

Britain could soon see its first "fix room" for drug users - a safe space where addicts can take illegal narcotics under medical supervision. But who uses such places and how do they work?

On a cold and wet Thursday morning, there are already users inside Skyen, one of Copenhagen's fix rooms.

Angelea Let, 49, sits in one of the cubicles in the smoking room to take crack cocaine.

"I get a good feeling from my legs to my head, it has already taken away 50% of my pain," she says as she smokes.

Angelea told the Victoria Derbyshire programme she can spend around £600 a week on crack.

She is one of hundreds of users who visit Skyen each day. The irony of the situation is not hard to see.

Image caption,
The fix room has an area where people can inject themselves with drugs

While the hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, are illegal, in a fix room they can be taken under the watchful gaze of medical supervisors. The equipment they are given, including needles for injecting, is clean and supplied by the shelter.

Everything is laid on - bar the drugs, which users must bring with them.

Injecting rooms have been around for more than 30 years. Drug rooms exist officially in several European countries, including Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Spain, as well as in Canada and Australia.

Recently a Paris hospital started housing France's first "shooting gallery".

Image caption,
There are six fix rooms in Denmark, and many others around Europe

And Britain could be next in line. Glasgow is planning to open the UK's first drugs consumption room and those behind it have been looking to countries like Denmark for inspiration.

Denmark opened its first fix room in 2012 and Skyen, which started three years ago, is one of six now running in the country. Funded by public money, it costs about £1m a year to run.

The set-up is organised and managed. There are two separate areas for people to take drugs - the injecting room, which seats up to nine people, and another room with eight seats, for those who want to smoke hard drugs.

But don't such facilities encourage illegal drug use?

Rasmus Koberg Christiansen, manager of Skyen, believes not.

"The situation in the area before we had the drug consumption room was that we had all the drug users sitting around in the streets, shooting drugs in public," says Christiansen. "After we opened this place, about 90% of the outdoor drugs use is gone.

"We have had hundreds of overdose situations, not a single one has been fatal.

Image caption,
Rasmus Koberg Christiansen says it is better to take people's drug use away from the streets

"Our purpose is harm reduction, however, if or when a user expresses a wish to stop or cut down on their drug use, we react immediately and help the person to make contact to a relevant facility."

Located in the heart of the Danish capital's red light district, Skyen is conveniently situated for Angelea, who volunteers in a soup kitchen by day and works as prostitute by night.

It was the effects of a car accident almost 20 years ago that led to her drug habit, she says.

"After I was in the accident, there was no feeling in my left leg and arm for about six years. I have the feeling back now, but I'm in constant pain."

To take the edge off, Angelea smokes mostly crack cocaine, and occasionally heroin.

She feels safe in the fix room, knowing that the staff and one of the nurses constantly on duty will watch over her. They are there to prevent people from dying from overdosing.

Media caption,
'Could you live my life for one week?'

Skyen fix room

  • 700,000 drug intakes in the facility since it opened
  • More than 500 overdoses on site, but no-one has died
  • Open 23 hours a day
  • Houses between 500-700 drug intakes per day
  • Has 5,772 registered users
  • People are allowed 35 minutes in the smoking room and 45 minutes in the injecting room

There is a constant flow of people in an out of the Skyen rooms throughout the day. Some of them are new faces to the staff, but many are regular users and can come multiple times in a few hours.

Angelea is back later in the afternoon to smoke crack again.

"I'm here again because I'm in so much pain," she says as she rushes into the smoking room.

The drugs room stays open through the night, closing only for an hour each morning for cleaning.

It is not a treatment facility to get addicts off drugs, and many people will use it before going back to their difficult and sometimes dangerous lifestyles.

Late in the evening, only a few streets away, Angelea is out working, trying to find customers to pay for her next fix.

"I'm going to work, make some money and then smoke cocaine, then go back to work, make more money and smoke more cocaine again in the fix room. This is my lovely life," she says, laughing bitterly.

Image caption,
Another room in Skyen is set up for those who smoke hard drugs

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The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.

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