The earliest examples of drug use being allowed in drug service centres, either unofficially or on a semi-official basis, date back to the 1970s in the Netherlands (the Prinsenhof and the HUK Amsterdam) and from the early 1980s in Switzerland (‘Fixerraum-Experiment’ at the AJZ in Zurich). These initiatives were fundamentally different from today’s drug consumption rooms, as the supervision of drug use or distribution of hygienic equipment was not their primary objective. They primarily focussed on protected places for the consumption of drugs and further on to get in contact with people who use drugs. These facilities attracted large numbers of people who use drugs (PWUD) and also suppliers, which created problems both in terms of the dynamics between service users and also in maintaining a safe environment. These experimental initiatives were stopped after a relatively short period of time either by the agencies themselves or after police intervention.

The first drug consumption room (DCR), in a modern sense, was established in Bern, Switzerland in 1986. This was at a time of increasing concern about the spread of HIV/AIDS, the significant increase of drug related deaths, and the growth of public drug scenes in a number of European cities. At that time, it became evident that drug policy focusing exclusively on abstinence (e.g. via detoxification treatment, drug free rehabilitation or imprisonment) was ineffective. It was during this period that ‘harm reduction’ approaches began to emerge, including needle and syringe exchanges (NSP) and opiate substitution treatment (OST).

There are approximately 90 DCRs worldwide, including DCRs outside Europe in Canada (Vancouver) and Australia (Sydney). In Europe, DCRs are well established in countries like Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. These success stories have stimulated debates about DCRs in a number of countries and, in European countries like Portugal, France, Great Britain and Austria, campaigning groups have been established to champion the cause of DCRs in their countries.

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