Date: 19 July, 2022

Overdose Prevention Facilities are specially designated spaces where people are able to take drugs safely under the supervision of trained staff, who can respond immediately to overdose. Such facilities also allow access to sterile equipment as well as support services including drug treatment, mental health services, wound care and blood testing, among others. 

The call comes in response to an escalation in the number of drug-related deaths in recent weeks, many of which have occurred within the Greater Belfast area.

Latest government statistics have shown that the number of drug-related deaths registered in Northern Ireland in 2020 (218) was the highest on record and continued the upward trend from 191 deaths in 2019. 

Research has shown that Overdose Prevention Facilities can have an impact on reducing drug-related deaths at a citywide level, leading to fewer emergency call-outs related to overdoses. The use of such facilities has also been associated with increased uptake in treatment among drug users. 

Mal Byrne, Extern’s Assistant Director of Services (Addictions), said: “As one of the leading organisations supporting people with problematic drug use within Northern Ireland, we are acutely aware of the risks and dangers which injecting use can pose to individuals themselves as well as local communities.

"In recent years we have been at the forefront of calling for new approaches to tackling these issues, such as needle exchange facilities. 

“While the tragic rise in drug-related deaths within Belfast city centre in recent weeks has brought this issue into sharper focus, it nevertheless remains a reality we and other such organisations working on the frontline encounter all year round.

"The risks of death or serious harm are becoming increasingly high for many people managing problematic drug use, to the extent that we must find a way in which they can be supported in a safe, stable environment. 

As well as helping to save lives, Overdose Prevention Facilities can also have a positive impact on local communities by ensuring that less drug paraphernalia such as used needles are discarded in public spaces. 

“While we call for the creation of an Overdose Prevention Facility in Northern Ireland, this will require significant support from politicians and policymakers to make this a reality.

"We would therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss such a move in a positive and informed way, with the ultimate aim of saving lives and making communities safer.” 

There are currently around 200 Overdose Prevention Facilities operating in 14 countries across the world; Canada, Germany, Switzerland, France, Portugal, Ukraine, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Iceland and the US. The first such facility was opened in Switzerland in 1986. 

There have also been recent calls in Scotland for the setting up of an Overdose Prevention Facility in response to an increase in drug-related deaths there.