Officials told to publish consumption room study after delays

Campaigners from Safe Consumption Facility Edinburgh called for the authority to publish its research so plans can be progressed.

Edinburgh officials told to publish consumption room study after delays LDRS

Edinburgh council officials have been ordered to publish a study looking at opening a drug consumption room in the city following months of delays.

A report setting out the findings of a feasibility study was not due to be released until next month – a year later than originally planned – but now councillors have voted to make it public by the end of this week.

Campaigners say the study, commissioned in 2022, has been “finished for a long time” but continues to be kept “hidden” from the public. They claim it concludes a drug consumption room (DCR) in the capital “will save lives” by reducing the number of overdoses.

Plans to pilot DCRs – also called overdose prevention centres – in Edinburgh and Glasgow look set to go ahead after the Scottish Government confirmed it would not be in the public interest to prosecute users for possession.

The feasibility study – led by Edinburgh Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (EADP) – has investigated the “local appetite” for a safe place for people to inject drugs, where one could open and its potential to reduce harm.

The latest statistics show there were 113 drug-related deaths across the city in 2022, the highest figure ever recorded.

Those who support establishing DCRs say they will be essential to tackling the rate of drug deaths in Scotland – which remains the highest in Europe – however critics argue there is limited evidence and that they could encourage drug use.

Campaigners from Safe Consumption Facility Edinburgh, who demonstrated outside the City Chambers ahead of a full council meeting on Thursday (February 8), called for the authority to publish its research so plans can be progressed.

Joe Barnes, from the group, told the LDRS: “We’re quite surprised the council is refusing to publish that study to the public and then take that study into account.

“We’ve spoken to researchers who have been either involved in the study or tangentially to it. We know the study says these are good and will save lives and save money at the end of the day.

“It’s been ready for several months, it’s been kicked down the road. We need to see it.

“The longer they kick this down the road, the more people will die so we need to get this done.”

He said the group was encouraging the council to set aside money to fund the trial then “establish a plan and then start getting the foundations laid as soon as that funding is available”.

Mr Barnes added the facility should be in a “permanent location that people can visit on a routine basis” rather than a vehicle which is amongst the options mooted.

“Ideally we wouldn’t just stop there – the reality is that drug-related problems is a big issue all across Scotland and Britain,” he said.

“We need to be looking at local communities that are suffering from this and we need to be establishing medical facilities in these area.

“The longer they kick this down the road, the more people will die so we need to get this done.”

Addressing councillors in the main chamber later, campaign member Tanya said: “The study has been finished for a long time and the council continues to hide the information in it from the public.”

She said problem drug use was “inevitable under our current cost of living crisis”.

She added: “Not only have people died but from 2015-2020 there was a spike in HIV cases in Glasgow caused by unclean needles which took HIV cases from 10 in 2015 to over 160 in 2020 which puts enormous unnecessary strain on the NHS.”

Independent councillor Ross McKenzie tabled a motion which said it was regretful that “rapid action has not been taken, and that the timeline for receipt of the feasibility study has been repeatedly extended”.

Passed unanimously, the motion called for the feasibility study to be published on the council’s website in full by the end of tomorrow (February 9) and a report with next steps to go before the policy and sustainability committee on March 12.

In addition councillors agreed the council leader should request a meeting with the Scottish Government to “discuss the feasibility study and to identify funding sources”.

Cllr McKenzie said: “I think given the timeline we should not accept any further delays.”

The Labour administration withdrew its amendment to hold-off publication until next month.

Labour councillor Tim Pogson apologised for delays and told the chamber there was “nothing being hidden here” .

He said it was a “very complex area of work” and the report’s release date had been repeatedly pushed back to allow “ethical considerations” of the study, while agreeing to work with officials to publish it this week.

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