OPENING European-style ‘drug-taking rooms’ in Southampton could help stop diseases spreading in the city, according to a health expert.

Councillors on the "reducing drug-related litter in Southampton scrutiny inquiry panel" have met to discuss a report which suggests ‘drug consumption rooms’ as a way to provide addicts with a “safe and supervised” place to take their illegal substances.

It comes after council cleaning staff discovered 7,000 pieces of drug paraphernalia in the city centre last year.

At the meeting Dr Prun Bijral, medical director for health and social charity Change Grow Live, said such a facility – which would be the first in the UK – could help prevent disease transmission and connect high-risk users with social services.

During the meeting, civic chiefs revealed the scale of the issue with 1,500 people in the city currently taking opiates or crack cocaine, with 636 people injecting them.

Dr Bijral said: “Entering structured treatment is not always possible, or even desired by some individuals, and these people would be most likely to benefit from safer consumption rooms.”

However, councillors raised a number of issues.

Swaythling councillor Spiros Vassiliou expressed fears for the safety of people who would be working at the facility, and said "drug tourism" could grow with people from outside the city being attracted in.

In response, Dr Bijral said that many drug rooms on the continent required proof of residence for using the facility, with staff knowing many of their clients on a personal basis.

However he added he did not know how much it would cost to launch the scheme, which vice chair of the panel, councillor Dave Fuller, raised concerns about.

Harefield councillor Dan Fitzhenry said drug consumption rooms were illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. He added: “It would take a lot of lobbying if we were to pursue this.”

Following the meeting, Southampton City Council's community safety chief, Dave Shields, said that he would keep an “open mind” and vowed to look into the findings from the inquiry, set to conclude later this year.

Hampshire Constabulary said it would discuss the scheme, with a decision to be made in partnership with the police and crime commissioner and the Crown Prosecution Service.

A final decision on whether the council will consider the concept is due in March.