Denmark's 'Fix Rooms' A Proven Success In First Year

By McCarton Ackerman 12/23/13

Despite criticisms that drug consumption centers promote criminality, studies have shown that they reduce public drug use while saving lives.

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Denmark has joined a handful of other countries worldwide in providing “fix rooms,” or drug consumption centers (DCR’s) where users are supervised when using. The Danish Parliament passed legislation in June 2012 that would allow municipalities to open these centers and Copenhagen launched the first one in October of that year. Two other Danish cities have since followed suit.

A second DCR was opened in Copenhagen last August and both centers now host 1,800 users who smoke and inject heroin and cocaine. Nurses witness up to 800 injections each day at the centers. However, that isn’t to say that drug use at DCR’s is necessarily safer. Although no deaths have taken place in the two Copenhagen fix rooms, 135 people overdosed on site in the first year.

But despite claims from some that DCR’s encourage and promote illegal drug use, studies are now showing that the rooms reduce the issue of public drug use without increasing crime and actually save lives in the process. "It's very similar to the early days of needle exchange in the U.S., where there was a lot of opposition," explained Laura Thomas with the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance. "Pretty much all of that opposition has now faded away and a lot of people acknowledge they were wrong to oppose it: that it didn't increase drug use, that it didn't do a lot of things that people feared. But at the same time, there's a very human cost to a slow learning curve."

The Danish DCR’s also assist addicts when they leave the rooms. Rasmus Christansen, manager at one of the Copenhagen DCR’s, said they have helped over 1,000 users get access to housing and medical care through the country’s welfare system. The success of the program has also inspired protection for addicts when they leave the streets. Majlund has established a two-square mile "free zone" in the Vesterbro neighborhood where officers don't arrest adults for possession of drugs, although they can still be punished for dealing.

"We used to think police could solve all these problems alone. But that doesn't work,” said Deputy Police Inspector Kaj Lykke Majlund. "We have to understand that drug users — the severely addicted — they need help. They need treatment, not punishment."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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