Plans to roll out a drug consumption room in Edinburgh are to be investigated by the council amid calls for more action to tackle overdose deaths.
Edinburgh city councillors backed a proposal for officials to investigate the feasibility of trialling an Overdose Prevention Centre (OPC), also known as a ‘fix’ room’, in the capital.
In addition, a report is to be drafted looking into increasing training for bar and nightclub staff working across the city on administering a life-saving ‘overdose reversal’ medicine known as Naloxone.
Naloxone is already widely used and is reported to have prevented 69 deaths in Scotland in the last month alone, however the introduction of an OPC in the capital, even as part of a trial, could run into legal difficulties.
A previous bid to test their effectiveness in Glasgow was blocked by the UK Government as it would require police to allow people to carry illegal substances to the facilities, clashing with existing drugs policy.
Scotland continues to have the highest drug death rate of any country in Europe — the latest figures show there were 722 in the first half of 2021, with 64 of those in Edinburgh.
The subject was debated at a full council meeting on Thursday, June 30, as the SNP’s Finlay McFarlane tabled a motion calling for naloxone training for night-time economy staff, which was merged with a Lib Dem addendum on safe consumption facilities from Councillor Euan Davidson.
Addressing members in the city chambers, Dan Roantree, secretary of the Young Communist League’s Edinburgh branch said: “I welcome and support the motion put forward by Councillor McFarlane as a first step in the marathon of tackling the issue of drug deaths. This motion could save lives, could contribute to the creation of a culture where drug addiction is seen not as a criminal issue but as a medical one.”
However, Mr Roantree added the view to train door staff and licensed premises to administer naloxone “reeks of a ‘not on my property’ approach to drug deaths” which he said “forces already overworked people to take on further responsibility.”
He urged the council to take a “proactive approach” and address social issues linked to drug deaths such as poverty and deprivation.
He said: “What we need is a safe consumption facility or safe consumption facilities in Edinburgh, places where those who suffer from addiction can go to safely administer drugs in a supervised, sterile environment.”
OPCs offer people suffering from addiction a safe, controlled environment to take drugs, eliminating the risk of overdose and ensuring that clean paraphernalia is provided. Users can also access support and advice from health professionals when visiting the facilities.
Councillor McFarlane said: “We need to ensure that our city is doing everything it can to play its part in helping those efforts and I hope that councillors from all parties would support this small but vitally important step.
“Naloxone is one of a range of measures being used to address the public health emergency of drug deaths but it is an important one. Administered via nasal spray or pre-loaded injection, naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has stopped but has no effect on someone who does not have opioids in their system.
“I was very pleased to accept the addendum, safe consumption rooms have worked in Portugal and are integral in taking a public health approach to the crisis.”
But he said all of the most important powers to take effective action on drug deaths “sit outside what the council can do”, adding: “The Scottish Government is making strides in its approach to dealing with drugs deaths. But the UK Government refuses to budge on important aspects that only it can legislate on, like decriminalisation, which makes it very hard to move to treating drug abuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice one.”
Councillor Davidson said: “Scotland has amongst some of the worst drug deaths in the developed world. In recent years that’s been as high as three times the European average. It’s time for a different approach. We urgently need to see investment in social work and health-based alternatives.”
“I appreciate there’s some conflicting legal advice regarding this issue but this amendment is asking officers to look at the Glasgow project and more recently the work taken place in Dundee and exploring what opportunities might exist to continue piloting that work here.”