Italys new minister for social solidarity, Paolo Ferrero, has spoken in support of the controversial shooting rooms which are designed to provide a safe place for drug addicts to shoot up. They have already been established in other European countries, such as Switzerland, Holland, Spain and Germany.

During an interview with Radio Radicale Ferrero stated, I have no preconceived bias on alternative forms of experimentation that reduce the effects of drugs. He has provoked strong criticism from right-wing opposition politicians and from some of his own government colleagues. Rosy Bindi (the minister for family policy) has hastened to say that, Ferrero is stating his own personal views on this matter and does not speak for the government. The establishment of these so-called shooting rooms is not in our plans.

However there has been support from others, such as Massimo Barra, the president of the Italian Red Cross. Better to have shooting rooms than to have people shooting in toilets and risking death, he said.

Former health minister Umberto Veronesi is of the same opinion: "Liberalising 'heavy' drugs results in a decrease in the number of drug addicts," he said, "I am in favour of government control on drug administration".

What is definitely on the cards is a change to the strict law on drugs approved by the previous government, which places all drugs in the same category and imposes serious punishments for all drug users.

Our main aims are to draw the line clearly between hard' and 'soft' drugs, says Ferrero. They have enormously different effects and we must not create confusion among the youth on this.

The other aim is to make a clear distinction between dealing drugs and drugs for personal use. We want to ensure that there are serious punishments for the former while the latter should be decriminalised.

The first shooting room was opened in Switzerland in 1986 and there are now over 80 throughout Europe, with Germany in the lead for the largest and best organised centres.

These centres are run by public entities or non-profit organisations and have nurses on staff to ensure hygienic conditions, thus reducing the risk of infection, diseases and overdoses.