- By James Cook
- Scottish editor
Authorities in Glasgow have approved the UK’s first official consumption room for illegal drugs, including heroin and cocaine.
The facility is backed by the Scottish Government as a way to tackle the country’s drug death crisis.
The pilot scheme will be based at a health center in the east end of Glasgow.
You will see users take their own medications under the supervision of trained health professionals.
The Glasgow Joint Integration Board, which brings together NHS and council officials, ratified the plans at an online meeting on Wednesday morning.
Dr Saket Priyadarshi, associate medical director of Glasgow alcohol and drug recovery services, told the meeting that the project would “reduce drug-related harm” for people, as well as providing them with “opportunities for treatment, care and recovery.
A report on the facility prepared by NHS officials and Glasgow City Council said it aimed to address the problem of “approximately 400 to 500 people injecting drugs in public places in Glasgow city center on a regular basis”.
The idea has been discussed for years but may now go ahead after a senior Scottish judicial official said users would not be prosecuted for possession of illegal drugs while on the premises.
Guidance issued to prosecutors by barrister Dorothy Bain KC earlier this month stated that it “would not be in the public interest” to initiate proceedings in such cases.
The Glasgow consumption room would be located on Hunter Street in the city’s east end, next to a clinic where 23 long-term drug users are currently prescribed pharmaceutical heroin.
Jade, 33, a drug user in the east end, described it as a “brilliant idea” that would “make a huge, huge difference”.
He told BBC News that he had taken heroin and cocaine to block out the trauma of his past and had witnessed the death of many loved ones as a result of drug addiction.
“My ex-partner died from drugs. My dad died. He was an addict. My sister died. A lot of my friends died,” he said.
Users will be able to inject drugs at the Glasgow facility, but a proposal for a room where they can smoke illegal substances has been removed from original plans.
Dr Priyadarshi said this was due to the legal issues raised by Scottish anti-smoking legislation, as well as technical challenges with ventilation and filtration.
“Maybe it’s something we can expand on in due course as we move forward,” he said.
Cecilia O’Lone, Labor councilor for the Calton ward where the facility is located, told the board meeting there was “some concern” in the community about the plans.
“If we don’t take the community with us, we leave it open to failure because it can be stigmatized,” he said at the meeting.
Susanne Millar, director of Glasgow Health and Social Care Association, said participation would begin immediately, with an initial community meeting scheduled for Thursday.
He promised “clear mechanisms to quickly resolve any issues that may arise.”
The consumer space is part of a wider move by the Scottish Government to tackle a crisis that is claiming more lives per capita than anywhere else in Europe.
Drug deaths peaked at 1,339 in 2020 before falling slightly in 2021 and then falling by about a fifth in 2022 to 1,051.
Since then, preliminary figures suggest they have started to rise again.
The consumption room plan has the support of the Scottish National Party, Labor and Liberal Democrat politicians, but the UK Home Office insists there is “no safe way to take illegal drugs”.
Ward said the SNP was playing politics by asking Westminster to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to decriminalize drug possession, a move rejected by the UK government.
Instead, he said, the Scottish Government should focus not only on harm reduction but also on the treatment, prevention, deterrence and reintegration of users into society.
“Unfortunately, they are fueling a constitutional debate about independence, and that at the cost of human lives,” he said.
SNP ministers deny that is the case.
Last week, Elena Whitham, Minister for Drug and Alcohol Policy, told the Scottish Parliament that “the war on drugs is over. No one won and the main victims were not organized criminals but the poorest and most vulnerable.”
“We know that Scotland as a nation needs to do something different and, within the limits of the law, Police Scotland will be part of that, working in partnership,” said Ch Con Malcolm Graham, local police chief at Police Scotland. .
He insisted the force would continue to crack down on drug dealers, but added supply was only part of the problem.
“We need to address the demand and we also need to address the harm,” Graham said, adding, “There is no single answer to this problem facing our nation.”
Scottish Conservative Party health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said he was pleased the pilot was being considered as a series of measures to tackle drug deaths, but added the party still had “serious reservations about how effective will actually be drug consumption rooms.
The MSP said the facility should not be seen as a “silver bullet to address this crisis”.
He called on the government to back the Conservative Right to Recovery Bill, which would enshrine access to treatment for those struggling with drug addiction into law.