BACKGROUND: Drug consumptions rooms (DCRs) are a well-established and evidence-based harm reduction response to drug use. Recently, a consortium led by health services in Glasgow, United Kingdom (UK), proposed piloting a DCR. In this article, we examine how the proposals were represented in news media reporting, and the possible effects of such reporting.
METHODS: A quantitative content and qualitative thematic analysis of UK news media (n = 174 articles) representations of the proposals to introduce DCRs in the city of Glasgow, UK, was conducted. Analysis was informed by Bacchi’s (2009, 2012, 2017). approach to policy analysis, ‘What's the problem represented to be?’
FINDINGS: Competing representations of the ‘problem’ of injecting drug use (IDU) were contested by a range of actors with different political visions. The applicability of the ‘evidence base’, potential benefits of DCRs to both users and the public, and the associated economic costs, were presented in differing ways depending on the underlying assumptions and presumptions of the arguments constructed (e.g. harm reduction vs recovery). As a result, a number of conflicting subject positions were presented that may have implications for the way that people who inject drugs (PWID) see themselves, and how they are viewed and treated by society. Whilst proponents positioned DCRs within a discourse of public health, an underlying rhetoric of abstinence and recovery underpinned the arguments against DCRs. It was this latter discourse that underpinned the UK Government’s rejection of the proposals, which the Scottish Government were prevented from overruling within the political constraints of their devolved powers, with the lived effect of people who use drugs (PWUD) being denied access to public health services that mitigate harm.
CONCLUSION: We conclude that attempts to introduce and gain public and political support for harm reduction responses such as DCRs through the news media face challenges within the historical and political context of prohibitionist UK drugs policy.
In some countries, there has been a positive recognition to the needs of people sleeping rough and their vulnerabilities during a public health emergency. It is incumbent upon governments to work with local partners to ensure that rapid responses to the housing of people sleeping rough addresses the often complex needs of such people through an interdisciplinary approach so that their immediate and longer-term medical, psycho-social and economic needs are integrated into the provision of accommodation. This can be accomplished through partnerships built with other stakeholders during normal times and by having multidisciplinary teams, that include mental health staff, working on the streets with people sleeping rough. Such responses to homelessness and rough sleeping during a public health emergency is an opportunity to advocate at all levels of government for a longerterm strategy to comprehensively and holistically address such issues, together with long-term sustainable funding to implement such a plan. Furthermore, it is vital to ensure that there is a buffer stock of vital medicines already in-country for at least the forthcoming 3-6 months; this applies to all sectors of society and particularly those medications most in need by vulnerable and marginalised individuals and communities – including the treatment of TB and HCV (especially Direct-Acting Antivirals) as well as for HIV (antiretrovirals) and Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST, meaning methadone and/or buprenorphine), as well as naloxone for opioid overdose.