The number of visits to premises in Belfast which hand out free needles to heroin users has doubled in the last four years, new figures reveal.
The statistics, from the Needle and Syringe Exchange Scheme in Belfast, show an increase in visits to the facilities from 7,500 in 2012 to around 15,000.
The programme was set up in 2001, with the claim that it would help intravenous drug users avoid contracting diseases. There are now 18 needle exchange facilities in Northern Ireland.
The number of needles issued by the exchange programme had also risen by over 50 per cent between 2010 and 2014.
In 2013, several news commentators spoke out when state approved drug rooms were proposed for Brighton.
Melanie Phillips, Peter Hitchens and Rod Liddle all slammed the idea, with Liddle calling it “liberal claptrap”.
The Home Office has indicated that it believes allowing drug rooms to open will reduce crime, but the plans have been met by fierce criticism.
Neil McKeganey, of the Centre for Substance Use Research, said that the focus should be on rehabilitation for drug users, not facilitating their habit.
“There is a real danger that we’re moving steadily away from a commitment for services to get addicts off drugs”, he said.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 makes it an offence to possess or supply heroin, and to permit premises to be used for supplying it.