What is an Overdose Prevention Facility?

Overdose Prevention Facilities are specially designated spaces where people are able to take pre-obtained 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.

Where are OPFs in operation?

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. 

Overdose Prevention Facility

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. 

How do they work?

On entering an OPF, a new client's health status and drug use are briefly assessed. They then receive sterile equipment and have access to a clean booth where they can inject under the care of trained staff.

They typically provide people who use drugs with:

  • sterile injecting equipment
  • a hygienic space to use drugs under supervision that they have bought illicitly
  • primary medical care, and emergency care in the event of overdose
  • counselling services and referral to social and health-care services
  • OPFs complement and offer a gateway to drug treatment

Why are they needed?

Injecting drug use happens everywhere. It happens inside homes, but also in the street. Too often the places where people take drugs are unhygienic, dangerous or isolated. Such places make dangerous infections more likely, and make it much harder to deal with overdose.

Until they are able to stop taking drugs, people who are dependent need safer spaces where they can inject. It can help save their lives, as well as helping reduce issues such as discarded needles.

What is the situation in Northern Ireland?

In response to an increase in drug-related deaths in Scotland, there have been recent calls for the setting up of an Overdose Prevention Facility but currently this is being blocked by the UK Government.

Extern are currently calling on support from politicians and policymakers to make this a reality.

As the law currently stands in Northern Ireland it is illegal to take or permit any premises to be used for the purposes of taking opium, therefore the introduction of these facilities would require legislative reform. Currently, the PSNI has a clear statutory responsibility to enforce the law under the Misuse of Drugs Act regarding the supply, sale and use of illegal drugs.

Extern's Iain Cameron, manager of Extern’s SISS team explains why Overdose Prevention Facilities are needed in Northern Ireland

What is the evidence?

There is a large body of literature describing and evaluating Overdose Prevention Facilities.

Find some of the key studies here.