The UK’s first “fix room”, where addicts will be able to inject themselves with drugs without fear of arrest has been approved.
A meeting of Glasgow’s health authorities, which gave the plan the green light, heard that the city “needs” the facility as part of efforts to address a drugs deaths scandal.
Scotland has recorded by far the highest number of fatalities per head in Europe with Glasgow one of the worst-hit areas.
The £2.3 million facility will be set up in the east end of Glasgow in a health centre, and will allow users to take their own illegally purchased drugs into the premises and use them in a hygienic environment under supervision of NHS staff.
However, there are already calls for the scheme to go further, with one SNP councillor calling for free heroin to be provided to addicts on the NHS, rather than them having to rely on criminal dealers.
Fears plan could ‘encourage’ illegal drug taking
Supporters of the plan say drug users will be more likely to access help for their addictions, and that if they overdose, it is better to do so in front of medical staff who can quickly attempt to revive them.
The UK Government has warned the facility could “condone or even encourage” illegal drug taking but is not attempting to block in the Scottish plans, with policing and health devolved areas.
The consumption room is to go ahead following years of legal wrangling after the Lord Advocate, Scotland’s senior law officer, said this month that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute those bringing drugs to the clinics.
Seeking approval of the drug consumption pilot, Rona Sweeney, chairwoman of the Glasgow City Integration Joint Board said: “I’m sure we all wish our city didn’t need this facility, but the reality is that we do.”
The report approved by members states: “There is overwhelming international evidence which demonstrates that safer drug consumption facilities can improve the health, wellbeing and recovery of people who use the facility and reduce the negative impact that public injecting has on local communities and businesses.”
The room was first proposed in 2016 following an HIV outbreak in Glasgow. Then, an assessment “found there are approximately 400 to 500 people injecting drugs in public places in Glasgow city centre on a regular basis”.
‘Taking criminals out of it’
SNP councillor Norman Macleod told the meeting he wants to see heroin provided to addicts, saying: “We’re still in a position where individuals who are addicted are obtaining their drugs from criminals and that, in my view, is profoundly to be regretted.
“I would look forward as soon as possible to initiatives such as those used in Switzerland where heroin-addicted individuals not only had safe consumption areas but the heroin was provided. That took the criminals right out of it.”
Elena Whitham, the SNP drugs minister, welcomed the board’s decision and said the Scottish Government has committed to making almost £2.4 million available for the scheme annually, from April next year.
Sandesh Gulhane, health spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said he was “happy” for the pilot to go ahead but said he had doubts over how successful it would be.
He said: “We still have serious reservations about how effective drug consumption rooms will be in reality.”