Scotland’s first addictions service treating patients with pharmaceutical-grade heroin has been unveiled in Glasgow.
The £1.2m Enhanced Drug Treatment Service (EDTS) will treat patients with the most severe, long-standing and complex addictions issues.
It will focus on people whose addictions impact most severely on their own health, as well as their communities, public services and the city centre.
The EDTS is aimed at people whose addiction persists, even after they have received conventional treatment and care services, which can include methadone, support from community addictions services and residential rehabilitation.
Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership’s new service aims to help save lives by reducing the risk of overdoses and the spread of blood borne viruses such as HIV.
It will also help reduce public injecting by those receiving this treatment.
Susanne Millar, chair of Glasgow’s Alcohol and Drug Partnership, said the service is “leading the way in Scotland”.
She said: “Sadly, Glasgow suffered a record number of drug related deaths last year and there was also an increased number of non-fatal overdoses.
“This challenging social issue demands innovative treatments and this Gold Standard service is leading the way in Scotland.
“It is aimed at people with the most chaotic lifestyles and severe addictions who have not responded to existing treatments.
“People might question why health services are spending money providing heroin for people with addictions – the answer is ‘we can’t afford not to’. Not only are we are striving to save the lives of individuals themselves, we also aim to reduce the spread of HIV and to reduce the impact of addictions on Glasgow families and communities.
“Successfully treating a person’s addiction not only helps them, it reduces pressures on frontline health and criminal justice services while reducing antisocial behaviour and drug related crime in communities.”
The new facility is licensed by the Home Office and based in Glasgow’s city centre alongside existing homelessness health services.
Patients will not only receive treatment for their physical health, including any infections, wounds or abscesses, there will also be an assessment of their social, legal and psychological needs.
They will then be helped to access other health and social care partnership services to tackle any other problems highlighted.
The new service will operate between 9am and 5pm daily, and will be delivered by a specialist multi-disciplinary team, supported by other health and social care services.
Independent evaluation will be carried out on the pilot project which is expected to treat up to 20 patients in its first year and up to 40 patients in year two.
Patients must be totally committed to the treatment and will have to attend the centre twice a day, seven days a week.
Injectable opiate (or heroin assisted) treatment will only be available to patients who are already involved with Glasgow’s Homeless Addiction Team.
People’s suitability for the treatment will be assessed and those who meet the criteria will receive a prescription for pharmaceutical grade diamorphine injections.
The diamorphine must be injected in a secure clinical room under the strict supervision of, and observed by, trained nursing staff. Doses will never be dispensed for use elsewhere and patients will be continually monitored.
Evidence from similar services in Vancouver and Zurich, indicate that once stabilised, patients will gradually progress from diamorphine injections to oral treatments. This means more patients are able to be treated over time.
Glasgow also wants to open a Safer Drug Consumption Facility to help prevent more loss of life.
The facility would be a safe, clean place where people could use their own street drugs in the presence of trained medical staff who could react in the event of an overdose.
Addictions experts also believe this type of facility would safeguard the wider public by reducing the number of publicly discarded needles in the city.
A report by the Scottish Affairs Committee recently concluded that there was “a strong evidence base for a safe consumption facility in Glasgow which would be a practical step to reducing the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland.”